Flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida), prized for their pink or white spring blooms, provide both shade and color to the home landscape. Dogwoods are marginal trees that grow best when partially shaded by either taller trees or buildings. In their natural setting, the dogwood often grows near the edge of forest canopies. Nursery-grown saplings provide the healthiest dogwoods for your landscape planting because they have well developed roots and even growth, advises the North Carolina University Extension.
Loosen the soil to a depth equal to that of the sapling's root ball and at least three times as wide. Use a power tiller or spade to break up the soil chunks, then remove any rocks or old roots from the area.
Perform a soil test on the planting area to determine the amount and type of fertilizer necessary for the dogwood in your soil. Follow the testing instructions in the kit, which is available from garden centers or your county extension office. Dogwoods require a soil pH between 5.2 and 6.0 in soil that is rich in organic matter.
Remove the loosened soil from the planting site and place it on a tarp or in a wheelbarrow. Mix the recommended amount of fertilizer with the removed soil. In most soils, apply 1/4 cup 12-4-8 analysis fertilizer at the time of planting and again in July or late summer.
Prepare the dogwood for planting. Saplings are either in a nursery pot or the roots are wrapped in plastic or burlap. Pull the pot off the soil ball of potted saplings. Cut the twine holding the burlap or plastic around balled trees. Remove plastic completely; burlap may be left in place as long as the ties are removed.
Set the dogwood sapling into the planting hole. Add or remove soil from under the root ball until the dogwood sits with the crown of the plant ½ inch above the soil surface. The crown is where the trunk emerges from the root mass.
Fill the hole back in with the fertilized soil until it is half-full. Water the hole thoroughly, forcing out any air pockets in the soil around the roots. Finish filling in the hole with the remainder of the soil.
Soak the area with water. Moisten the area around the new planting to a depth equal to the depth of the root ball.
Spread a 3-inch layer of organic mulch around the tree, completely covering the planting area. Use pine bark or compost. Mulch preserves the moisture in the soil around the tree, while also adding nutrients as the mulch breaks down.