Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is a favorite flowering tree in home gardens. It is appreciated for its white or pink bracts in early spring and its broad, elegant form. South Carolina, being a native home to dogwood, provides a perfect environment for the tree. Homeowners in the state can expect dogwood to perform for several decades.
Flowering dogwood is native to the woodlands of the eastern United States from southern Maine to northern Florida, though it is more prevalent in the Southeast. In the garden, dogwood grows 25 to 30 feet tall. It spreads as wide as or wider than it is tall. All of the available varieties are in shades of white and pink, both of which are found in the wild. The tree bears red berries in summer and fall. It is well adapted to cultivation in all parts of South Carolina.
Dogwoods are understory woodland trees in their natural South Carolina environment. Deprived of sunlight, woodland dogwoods grow tall and spindly and have thin canopies. They quickly grow to their full size and start a slow decline after 20 years or so. In the garden, however, they have full sun and more space to grow into strong specimens. Also quickly growing, the garden-grown dogwood reaches its full size in about 20 years, but can continue to thrive until age 40 to 60.
Dogwoods are shallow-rooted and live longest when grown in evenly moist soil. Well-drained soil is OK, but dry soil stunts growth and makes the tree vulnerable to disease. Disease, in fact, is a major factor in dogwood longevity. Recent decades have seen the proliferation of dogwood anthracnose, a deadly fungus affecting native dogwoods in South Carolina. There is no effective treatment for the disease and dogwoods affected by anthracnose can be expected to die in a few years.
Buy dogwoods from a reputable nursery and never dig one from the woods, because it could be diseased. Always plant dogwoods in full sun with plenty of air circulation to guard against anthracnose and other diseases. Make sure dogwood has evenly moist soil to keep its shallow roots hydrated. In the lowland areas of eastern South Carolina, mix in lots of organic matter into the planting hole to improve water and nutrient retention. Irrigate in the absence of regular rainfall and fertilize in late fall with a fertilizer formulated for acid-loving trees.