The American dogwood (Cornus florida) became Virginia’s state flower in 1918. Each spring, white flowering dogwood bursts with blossoms that provide a striking visual display, particularly when viewed within a wooded area. Flowering dogwood can grow within USDA climate zones 5 through 9. Visitors to the eastern United States in the spring can see why white flowering dogwood is a popular ornamental tree.
The branches of the white flowering dogwood extend outward unlike most trees whose branches reach upward at roughly 45-degree angles. The horizontal tiers of the branches of the flowering dogwood give it a soft, filtering appearance that makes it a favorite for landscaping. The bark of the flowering dogwood looks like small blocks. The leaves are green and 2 to 4 inches long. In the fall, the leaves will start to turn a reddish-purple. Left on the ground, the leaves will decay and provide nourishment to the soil.
The white flowering dogwood sets buds in early spring that burst into star-shaped white bracts, 1 to 2 inches long, with a cleft at the tip of each bract. At the center of the bracts are tiny yellow flowers. It is the white bracts that give the tree its beautiful appearance in early spring. The flowers last up to three weeks and may appear before the leaves display.
Red fruit in the shape of a football and about 1/2-inch long appear after the bloom. The fruit, which can last into the fall, is enjoyed by squirrels and other animals.
The flowering dogwood can grow as much as 35 feet tall and 30 feet wide. However, when planted under the canopy of other trees, the dogwood tends to hold a maximum height of 20 feet. Choose a location with partial shade, though white flowering dogwood can tolerate full sun, particularly with shade in the late afternoon or if the soil is moist. The tree needs good air circulation to avoid potential fungal issues.
To plant the tree, dig a hole three times as wide as the pot is and loosen the soil below where the plant will rest. As you backfill the hole, make sure the final resting place of the tree shows the crown at or slightly above ground level. Water the tree deeply and then add 3 to 4 inches of mulch or pine straw. Water regularly for the next two weeks if there is no saturating rainfall.
Water during dry periods until the tree becomes established, or until it’s about 3 years old. Prune dead or diseased branches. Fertilizer can be applied in the spring or fall, but use fertilizer sparingly. Because of varying climates, soil and water conditions, it is important to check with your local nursery or county extension office about the type and amount of fertilizer to use in your area.