Among the first trees to bloom in the beginning of the year, dogwood is often a bellwether for coming spring. Producing large flowers, it is a common ornamental tree in yards and parks throughout the United States. The dogwood tree has found its way into history, having been planted by both George Washington at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson at Monticello and is the state tree of Virginia.
Dogwood is a native deciduous tree, found predominantly in the eastern regions of the United States. The tree will grow well from hardiness zones 5 through 9 and can be cultivated within the zones throughout the United States. It grows at a medium rate, adding around 1 to 2 feet of growth per year. Dogwood trees are predominantly under-story plants, meaning they grow under the canopy of larger hardwood trees and forests.
The leaves of the tree are simple and oval, forming a point at one end. They are approximately 4 to 8 inches in length and 2 to 4 inches in width. Dogwood leaves have distinctive curved veining. They are green during the summer and turn an attractive red or maroon color in fall. The bark is brownish-gray and relatively smooth. The flowers of the plants are actually tiny, surrounded by four large, showy, specialized leaves, known as bracts. The bracts can come in colors ranging from pure white to pink or red and bloom in the spring. The fruit of the tree is a small, bright red berry.
The tree can reach to 25 feet, in both height and width, although it is often smaller. With a rounded, open canopy with a moderate density and texture, dogwoods are usually rounded in form with a fairly regular, and symmetrical, shape.
Dogwood trees prefer soils that are deep and very rich in organic material. The soils should be moist, slightly acidic and well-draining. The tree will grow in full sun but prefers partial shade. During hot summer months, dogwood trees should be irrigated. The trees are relatively intolerant of salt and should not be planted in coastal areas. Most often, a dogwood tree will want to develop several trunks, which can produce an attractive effect. Dogwood can also be trained to grow as a single-trunk tree.
As an ornamental landscape plant, dogwood trees are useful in plantings where space is limited. These relatively diminutive trees can be planted safely near utility lines, buildings or patios. The fruit of the tree is attractive to many types of animals, including songbirds. The wood of the tree is extremely hard and has been used in the past for making textile shuttles, woodworking tools, golf clubs and yokes. It also makes a good carving wood.