The Chinese flowering dogwood, scientifically known as the Cornus kousa, is one of several types of flowering dogwood trees. In the wild, it grows as an understory tree, reaching out from under the shade of taller, fuller trees. The Chinese dogwood has also become a popular landscaping tree, doing well in full sun situations, too. One of the earliest blooming ornamental trees, the Chinese dogwood is the hardiest.
The Chinese flowering dogwood comes from Asia, particularly China, Korea and Japan. It was introduced in the U.S. in 1875 and was valued not only for its decorative uses but for the hardness of its wood. Settlers used the wood to make everything from forks and knives to hay forks and mallets. The lack of silica in the wood made it exceptional as a tool for watchmakers.
The Chinese dogwood prefers full sun and is able to grow well in a variety of soil types. It is a deciduous tree that grows slowly to a mature height of 15 to 25 feet. Its rounded canopy can spread to as much as 25 feet across. It requires moderate watering, though it can withstand some drought conditions. This form of dogwood blooms later than many of the others, making it suitable for cool summer regions.
The Chinese flowering dogwood produces creamy white, lacy blooms in the spring, usually late May, sometimes lasting until early July in cooler climates. A few varieties have pink blooms, too. Flowers, called bracts, give way to broad, flat, green leaves that take on scarlet and purple hues in the fall. The tree produces pinkish-red drupes, berries similar to blackberries that appeal to squirrels and songbirds. The bark of the Chinese dogwood takes on a patchy brown, tan and gray appearance as it ages, giving it an interesting and distinctive look. The tree is known to attract butterflies.
Dogwoods require moderate watering but do not tolerate "wet feet" or soggy roots. They should be watered regularly during spring and early summer while they are growing and then watered less frequently during the later part of the summer. They require only minimal pruning to remove damaged or dead branches. The Chinese dogwood does not require fertilizing but can benefit from a good amount of organic material being added at the time it is planted. Dogwoods are susceptible to damage from nicks by lawnmowers. This can be enough to allow pests and disease to take hold.
Anthracnose is a fungus that leaves reddish-brown spots on leaves and flowers and causes wilting and curling of both. It first appears on the flowers and then the leaves during overly wet springs. With time, the centers of the spots fall out, giving the leaf a shotgun blast look. If the disease occurred the previous spring and a damp spring is expected, spaying with a fungicide before buds emerge. Leaf spot and powdery mildew also can affect Chinese dogwoods. There is no treatment for leaf spot but it is recommended that fallen leaves be removed and destroyed. Powdery mildew is basically harmless but can be treated with fungicide as well.