How to Plant a Dogwood Tree – Facts, Planting, Care & Pruning

Dogwood Tree Growing Guide

Dogwood tree facts

Botanical Name: Cornus florida
Common Name(s): Flowering Dogwood, Dogwood
Height: 20 to 30 feet
Bloom Time: Early spring
Soil Conditions: Wet, moist, or dry soil conditions
Sun: Partial shade

Fact: There is a legend that the dogwood was chosen for Christ’s Cross.
Source: 100 years of Farm journal. Philadelphia: Countryside Press;, 1976. Print.

Fact: The best-known tree legend in America relating to the cross is the story of the symbolism of our native Eastern dogwood, one of the best-loved of flowering trees in parks and gardens.
Source: Easter garland: a vivid tapestry of customs, traditions, symbolism, folklore, history, legend, and story. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1999. Print.

Introduction to dogwood trees

There are many varieties of dogwood tree, and all are grown in a similar manner. You can choose to grow your dogwood from a seed, seedling, or a juvenile tree started at a greenhouse or nursery. Learning how to grow a Dogwood tree properly is essential in sustaining its life.

Choosing a dogwood

Starting a dogwood tree from a seed is a complicated, time-consuming project for the beginner. The easiest way to start growing your dogwood is to buy a sapling from a local nursery. Look for a tree that has healthy leaves or buds whose root bulb has been wrapped in burlap or planted in a gallon bucket.

When to plant a dogwood tree

The dogwood tree is a woody plant from the Cornaceae family, best known for the stunning pink or white flowers that bloom in the late spring. These trees make a great addition to any garden; however, caring for them can be challenging if not done properly. Several factors play into whether the dogwood will survive, with the most important being when you plant the dogwood tree.

Wild dogwoods

Ideally, dogwood trees should only be purchased from a nursery rather than transplanting those that are growing in the wild. This is because dogwoods that are growing in a wooden area have a much lower survival rate than those that can be purchased. Plant diseases can also spread this way easily since you are taking a wild tree that hasn’t been bred to be disease resistant.

If you do choose to plant a dogwood from the wild, a small tree should be chosen, as they’re more likely to bounce back from the shock of a transplant. The tree should be dug up at the beginning of spring after the ground has thawed. The tree roots should be kept moist at all times, and the dogwood should be moved to it’s new location as quickly as possible. It’s also important to make sure the tree is facing the same direction as it was in the wild.

Nursery dogwoods

If you’re planting a dogwood tree from a nursery, you have more time to work with. The tree should still be purchased and planted within the spring; however, gardeners will have more time to wait for the proper weather. Just like transplanting a tree from the wild, the weather should be cool and crisp. The ground should be completely thawed from the previous season, but still moist. Dogwoods have very shallow roots systems, so the moist soil allows them to transplant without too much shock, which can kill the plant.

How to plant a dogwood tree

If you live in the southeast region of the United States and have admired the pink, red, or white flowers on the dogwood trees of your neighbors, you may be wondering how to plant a dogwood tree yourself. Although a dogwood tree does have to be properly planted to ensure the desired result, the instructions are straightforward enough to allow for your success.

Find the proper location

A partially shaded location makes the ideal spot to plant a dogwood tree. Once you have located such a place, dig a hole that is deep enough, so the bulb of the tree fits in it completely. When you have finished digging, the top of the tree’s bulb should lie even with the ground. You may fill the hole with soil after the dogwood tree bulb is firmly in place.

Additional steps in planting

Before completely filling the hole with soil, make sure it is set up to have enough drainage space. If it does not, it will overflow with water and your dogwood tree could quickly die. Also, spread mulch around the ground level of the tree and exercise caution not to get it too close to the roots.


Any dogwood that is less than four feet tall should be staked to ensure a straight growing tree. The stake should be kept in place for three years, at which time your tree is able to support itself.

How to care for a dogwood tree

Your new dogwood tree will need to be watered at least twice a week. It may be helpful to designate the same two days every week and write it on the calendar so as not to forget. When you water the tree, it should become sufficiently moist, but it should not be over-watered. During the first two years of growth of the dogwood tree, a watering routine is extremely important to its eventual successful growth.


Watering once or twice a week, particularly during dry weather, will ensure that your tree thrives. Over-watering can cause root rot, so be sure to keep your tree moist but not flooded.


Fertilize your tree twice a year, once in March and once in July. A quarter of a cup of organic fertilizer sprinkled around the tree is the only feeding your tree needs for continued growth.

When to prune a dogwood tree

When to prune a dogwood tree depends on why you are pruning it. The first occasion for pruning is when you plant the tree, and you will usually do this in spring in most regions. Before planting the tree, remove any damaged or dead branches, any branches whose angle with the trunk is less than 45º, and any crossed branches.

Prune annually to shape and train it

As your tree grows, you will want to prune it annually to guide its growth. The best time to do this pruning is in winter while the tree is dormant; the absence of leaves also makes pruning easier because you have a clear view of the tree’s shape and structure. Dogwoods are small trees, usually 20 to 30 feet tall at maturity. There are two types of pruning cuts you may choose. The first is the thinning cut.

A thinning cut removes an entire branch just above its collar, which is the thickened area at its base where it emerges from the trunk or a larger branch. You will use thinning cuts to remove any branches that are crossed or are too close together. Ideally, you want branches emerging from the tree trunk at fairly even intervals.

The second type of cut is a heading cut. A heading cut removes a portion of a branch just above an outward-facing bud; its purpose is to encourage more branching. You would use heading cuts if you want a thick, dense tree to screen an unwanted view.

Prune as needed to remove damage

If your tree becomes damaged, perhaps as a result of a storm, any broken or damaged branches should be removed as soon as possible. You can do this at any time of the year. Use a thinning cut to remove the entire damaged branch just above its collar.

Don’t prune it yourself

If your tree has reached full maturity or has large branches near utility lines, that is not a do-it-yourself situation. For safety, it’s best to hire a professional arborist.

How to prune a dogwood tree

When pruning a dogwood tree, it is important to keep in mind not to over-trim, as this will result in weak branches and stunted growth. The dogwood tree is very delicate and will not tolerate excessive pruning, so trimming should be limited to dead, diseased, or damaged branches. If there are any branches that need pruning, however, they should be removed as soon as they are found. When trimming, be careful not to tear or damage the bark, as this will provide an entry point for the borer larvae.

Pruning diseased branches

If you are trimming diseased branches, remember to dip your cutters into a bleach solution after each cut to avoid spreading the disease to healthy branches. Remove cut branches immediately and dispose of any diseased parts, including the leaves. Burning the infected foliage is effective in preventing the spread of disease.

Post-pruning care

how to prune dogwood tree
To ease the shock of pruning, water the dogwood immediately afterward. It may be helpful to apply a pruning compound to the cut branches to protect them and help heal the wound. Do not apply fertilizer to a newly-pruned tree, as it may overwhelm new growth and do more harm than good.

About Seth 58 Articles
Hey, Seth here! As a homesteader and self sufficient farmer, my main interests are in gardening, tree care and lawn care. There is nothing I appreciate more than having a beautiful and healthy home garden. I spend most of my days gardening, caring for my small orchard and a few animals that I keep. I thoroughly enjoy working on my garden as well as sharing tips and experiences with people who have the same passion. My education in environmental science and technology has also led me to explore agriculture from a different perspective and exchange information with people from around the world.

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