A popular flowering landscape tree with cream or pink blossoms, the dogwood (Cornus florida) requires pruning every year. Dogwood trees benefit from pruning when unhealthy wood is removed, but too much pruning can weaken the tree. Choose your tools wisely; use anvil pruners for cuts smaller than 3/4 inch, lopping shears for those with a larger diameter and hand saws for big limbs.
Dogwoods should be pruned during the dormant season, once the tree has stopped actively growing. Gardeners can prune during the later winter or spring, once frost danger has passed in the region. Alternately, prune in the early fall once the tree has shed leaves.
Dogwood trees can develop suckers that grow from the base of the tree trunk, out of the trunk directly, out of old pruning sites or from crotch intersections of the tree limbs. Suckers resemble fast-growing new shoots, except they will not bear flowers if left on the tree. They sap energy from the tree and don't produce quality wood so should be removed annually as part of your pruning program.
Primarily prune a dogwood tree to remove unhealthy wood. Wood that is diseased or damaged can infect other parts of the tree if left hanging, and dead wood may rot and cause disease. Dead wood doesn't sway with the wind and feels hollow. Diseased or damaged wood shows discoloration, surface damage or scarring. To correctly prune this wood, cut it off at the base or cut long limbs back to a healthy Y-intersection.
According to the Alabama Cooperative Exchange System, dogwood trees should not be pruned whatsoever until they are at least 2 years old. When pruning unhealthy wood, prepare a disinfectant solution of 1 part water to 10 parts bleach. Dip your pruning tools in this solution (or spray them with a spray bottle) in between every cut of unhealthy wood. Failure to do so may mean you spread disease to healthy parts of the tree.
Gardeners may perform shaping pruning if they wish. Trim long branches back to a Y-intersection and remove limbs from crowded areas to allow more sunlight and air circulation through the tree's branches. Cut off wood that grows vertically or slants downward, or small twigs. North Carolina State University advises that the majority of the pruning be for the health of the tree and not for cosmetic reasons.