The dogwood tree is a small flowering tree that is popular for home landscaping and grows wild in some parts of the country. The tree produces flowers that bloom in spring. Dogwoods are easy to grow and take very little care. Their diminutive size allows them to grow in the shade of larger trees.
Dogwood is a deciduous broadleaf tree that grows to 30 feet in height. The leaves are dark green in the summer and turn red in the fall. The tree has four-petal flowers with a center; the petals are mostly white tinged with red. The Apple Blossom variety has pink flowers, while Cherokee Chief sports red flowers. White Cloud is the most popular white-flowered tree. Chinese dogwoods have graceful limbs and larger flowers. The tree produces berries that come in white, black, red and yellow depending on the species. The berries will make you sick if you eat them.
Pick a shady site with moist--but not wet--soil. Plant trees in the spring once the soil can be dug. Dig a hole three times the size of the diameter of the root ball. It should only be deep enough to cover most of the root ball; the top portion should protrude above the ground. Never plant deeper than the stem. Backfill with a mixture of soil, compost and peat moss. Water deeply.
Dogwoods do not require a great deal of care. As a blooming tree, they may need to be fertilized once or twice a year. Do not fertilize the first year it is planted; the tree needs time to get used to the soil. The next year use one fourth cup of 12-4-8 fertilizer in February or March. Dogwoods do not do well during an extended drought. Water them well during dry periods. The only time they should be pruned is when a branch dies or is injured in a storm.
Diseases and Pests
Dogwood trees are susceptible to dogwood anthracnos, caused by a fungus that was identified in 1991. This disease spread throughout the eastern United States. The disease shows itself as brown spots on the leaves. The spots get bigger and bigger, with purple edges around them, and the leaves fall off the tree. The fungus then travels to the limbs and trunk, where large cankers form and prevent the sap from flowing. A fungicide available at most garden centers can be applied early to save the tree.
Dogwood borers are caterpillars that burrow into the tree and eat the living tissue. The insect gets into the bark through an open wound in the wood. These borers can be controlled by a special insecticide available at garden centers.
Legend has it that the dogwood was once a large tree like an oak or maple and the wood was very strong. It was said that the wood was used to make crosses on which the Romans crucified criminals. When Jesus was to be executed, a large cross made of dogwood was ordered. The dogwood trees were distressed that it was their wood on which Christ would be crucified, and because of their anguish Christ took pity on them. He made sure they would never be used for this purpose again by shrinking the tree and making the wood twisted. The flower of the dogwood is shaped like a cross, with two long petals and two short ones. The flower is white with the edges tinged in rusty red to represent the nail marks, and the center symbolized the crown of thorns.
Never plant a dogwood tree from the wild because most wild dogwoods are infected with anthracnose, and it can spread. Be careful how you handle the tree. It can easily be damaged by weed whackers and lawn mowers. Once a wound is created, disease and pests can get in and damage the tree.