How to Prune Western Dogwood

White Flowering Dogwood image by Marci Degman


Western dogwood (Cornus nuttalli) is a small tree native to the western part of the U.S. It is very similar in appearance to the flowering pink dogwood (Cornus florida), which is native to the eastern U.S. Western dogwood grows naturally as an understory tree at the woodlands edge. This suggests that this tree benefits from having a wind break and afternoon sun protection provided by larger trees. The pure white typical dogwood flowers are a treat in early summer. This tree does not require or benefit from hard pruning. Western dogwood prefers to be left alone as much as possible. For this reason transplanting and shaping are best done when it is young.

Pruning White Flowering Dogwood

Step 1

Examine your dogwood. This plant will only require some minor shaping. Look for any diseased or damaged branches and twigs. Check for branches that are crossing or contrary to the rest of the tree. Know what you will need to do before picking up your pruners.

Step 2

Clean your pruning tools with alcohol. Dogwoods are susceptible to anthracnose disease. Anthracnose is a fungal disease spread by spores carried in the wind. It is also possible to spread this disease from tree to tree with infected tools. If you have more than one dogwood, clean your tools after each tree. Using sharp tools will also create a cleaner cut which is less damaging to the wood.

Step 3

Prune any dead or diseased wood. It is important to prune this tree when it is dormant. The best time to prune is in the early spring before leaf break. Fresh cuts during warm months can encourage wood boring insects and fungal diseases. Do not cut larger branches flush, leave the small collar next to the trunk. This will encourage the wound to close more quickly.

Step 4

Shape your dogwood. After removing the damaged wood, look again at the form of the tree. Try to prune only what is necessary to compliment the natural shape of this tree. Cornus nuttalli is an opened branched tree, so do not try to create a tight crown. Cutting back too far will also result in fewer flowers. Check it each year for dead wood, but do not feel it must be pruned each year like some trees and shrubs do.

Step 5

Clean up the area. It is especially important to clear away and burn any diseased foliage that has fallen to the ground. Haul away any branches or twigs that are laying under the tree.

Tips and Warnings

  • Anthracnose is a fungal disease that causes die-back of the leaves and twigs. Most trees that are otherwise healthy will overcome it if left alone and will return healthy the following year. Over time repeated attacks can severely weaken your trees. Native flowering dogwoods are susceptible to anthracnose. It is passed by spores blowing in the wind.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruners
  • Alcohol
  • Wheelbarrrow


  • Oregon State University, Landscape Plants
Keywords: anthracnose, native dogwood, eddies wonder, cornus, cleaning tools

About this Author

Marci Degman has been a landscape designer and horticulture writer since 1997. She has an Associate of Applied Science in landscape technology and landscape design from Portland Community College. Degman writes a newspaper column for the "Hillsboro Argus" and radio tips for KUIK. Her teaching experience for Portland Community College has set the pace for her to write online instructional articles.

Photo by: Marci Degman