Learn which plants thrive in your Hardiness Zone with our new interactive map!

How to Grow Dogwood Trees

By Kimberly Sharpe ; Updated September 21, 2017
Blossoms of the dogwood tree.

The dogwood tree (Cornus florida), a flowering tree native to the United States, is treasured as an ornamental in any landscape. Dogwoods are also a popular wildlife tree because of their bright red fall berries adored by birds and mammals. Dogwoods normally grow to 30 feet tall with a branching spread to 30 feet wide. Numerous cultivars produce red, white and pink blossoms. Outstanding fall foliage ranges from brilliant red to deep purple. Native dogwoods grow along the East Coast and are often found as an understory in hardwood forest settings. The tree can thrive in the hot, humid South or the cold, wintry North.

Choose a location that offers dappled shade to plant the dogwood tree if you live in the hot South. In the North, the tree can easily thrive in full sun. The location should offer moist conditions with good drainage. Once established, the dogwood can easily tolerate drought conditions, but seedlings and trees younger than 2 years old need to have moist soil conditions to thrive. Dogwoods especially enjoy nutrient-rich soil. Add humus to the soil at a ratio of 50 percent humus to 50 percent garden soil. An ideal humus material is peat moss, sawdust or decaying leaves.

Make sure the dogwood has plenty of air circulation in its new planting location. Air circulation is important to prevent the tree from becoming infested with what is known as dogwood blight. The fungal disease has become very severe in dogwood trees that suffer from moist foliage conditions. The afflicted leaves will appear to have a purple outline. The foliage eventually dies and falls from the tree. The lifespan of the tree after the blight hits is normally from two to three years and then the tree perishes. As of 2010, there was no cure for dogwood blight so prevention is very important.

Plant the dogwood tree at the same soil level as it was in the nursery. Dig a hole that is twice as big as the root-ball of the dogwood. Tamp the garden soil and humus mixture firmly around the trees roots to remove any air pockets. Air pockets can cause the trees roots to dry and die. Apply 2 to 3 inches of mulch around the tree to help maintain moist soil and keep weeds back. Peat moss, sawdust, pine needles and bark chips are all ideal mulch choices.

Water the dogwood tree at least once a week. Young dogwood seedlings require at least 1 inch of water per week to thrive. The soil around the tree should be moist but not waterlogged.

Fertilize the dogwood tree when it is more than 1 year old. A tree fertilized in its first year of life will often die. Fertilize a dogwood tree that is 6 feet tall with 1/4 cup of 12-4-8 fertlizer. Apply the fertilizer around the base of the tree. Make sure the fertilizer does not touch the trees trunk. As the tree grows, use 1 cup of fertilizer for every inch of diameter that the dogwoods tree trunk grows. Fertilize a tree in February and in June.

Prune the dogwood tree in February. Simply remove any dead or damaged limbs. Dogwood trees rarely require pruning to maintain shape.


Things You Will Need

  • Shovel
  • 12-4-8 fertilizer
  • Pruning shears
  • Mulch
  • Humus


  • Dogwoods are often susceptible to fungal infections that cause spots or discolorations to appear on their leaves. The conditions will not kill the tree. Simply apply a fungicide to the tree according to the directions on the label to cure the problem.
  • Weak dogwood trees are often attacked by borers, which are small beetles that lay eggs and produce grubs that consume the the wood of the tree. Maintain the dogwood's overall health to prevent borers from attacking the tree.


  • Never transplant a dogwood tree from the wild because the tree might be infected with diseases or pests.

About the Author


Based in Oregon, Kimberly Sharpe has been a writer since 2006. She writes for numerous online publications. Her writing has a strong focus on home improvement, gardening, parenting, pets and travel. She has traveled extensively to such places as India and Sri Lanka to widen and enhance her writing and knowledge base.