Flowering dogwoods come in shrub and tree forms and produce blooms in the early spring followed by seeded fruit called drupes. In addition to being unfussy about soil conditions and fertilizing, flowering dogwoods do not require significant regular pruning to maintain their health or appearance. Their canopies grow in a naturally attractive dome-shaped habit. The main reason to prune flowering dogwood is to remove or prevent damage or remove entry points for disease.
Groom your flowering dogwood by occasionally inspecting the tree and performing light-maintenance pruning. Cut off or saw down any damaged, dead or diseased branches that you see. Trim any low-hanging branches that are within a foot of touching the ground as a preventative measure to stop the easy transfer of soil-borne disease and pests. Harvest dogwood branches when in bud or in bloom for use in cut flower arrangements in the home.
Hard prune your flowering dogwood rarely and always in late winter or early spring during its dormant period in order to reduce stress on the tree. Hard prune to control the size, internal canopy structure and shape of the tree. First select and cut off any branches that are abrading or crowding each other. If you need more sunlight penetration into the center of the tree to rejuvenate it, cut away a few secondary branches spread throughout the canopy. This will bring light in as well as increase air flow.
Inspect your progress each time you make a cut to remove a single branch from the tree. Look at the tree carefully from two aspects: Standing under the canopy looking up and from a distance of several yards or more. When looking up into the canopy you want to be able to see some sunlight and have it be evenly dispersed throughout the canopy--dark and shady on one-half of the tree and light and airy on the other is not good. When looking from a distance you want to see symmetry in the overall aspect. Your goal in pruning is to boost the performance and appearance of the tree and looking at it before you make a cut is the only way to prevent lasting mistakes.
Water your dogwood well after pruning as the stress can cause an uptake in moisture consumption. Skip chemical fertilizers but mulch around the base of the tree with well-aged manure and compost to feed the roots and speed recovery from pruning. Lay down a blanket of shredded bark over the compost and manure as a final layer to feed and protect the soil.