General gardening topics

Growing Cornus (Dogwood) and care guide

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The flowering dogwood is known for its beautiful bracts which appear around late spring to early summer.

However, the most popular dogwoods, Cornus alba, Cornus sericea and Cornus sanguinea are grown for there stunning bright stems, often yellow, red and even a firey orange depending on the variety and they make for one of the most stunning winter displays you will ever see.

Finally, there is the lesser-known cornelian cherry, also known as cornus mas which is perfect for winter interest as it produces flowers throughout winter followed by fruit in summer.

Fun facts about Cornnus

  • Flowering dogwoods flower between the end of spring and the beginning of Summer.
  • It is best planted between October and March and can often be purchased bare root offering excellent value for money.
  •  Most types reach an ultimate height of 3 meters and an ultimate spread of 8 meters and grow into a small tree but you can keep them much smaller with pruning, especially the varieties with vibrant stems that can be pruned in spring hard to encourage the bright stems.
  •  It enjoys full sun to partial shade and will grow in most soil types.
  •  It is very resistant to frost making it a hardy shrub for sheltered or exposed areas.
The red-barked dogwood 'Elegantissima' which had bright red stems in winter and beautiful variegated foliage in summer is one of our favourites and grows to around 2.5 meters but can be pruned back hard every spring.

Growing Dogwood

Flowering dogwoods

If you are growing a flowering dogwood like the Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Daybreak’ Tree variety which it’s variegated leaves, you need to give it well-drained but fertile soil that is neutral or acidic. This species will tolerate full sun or partial shade but if you grow it in full sun you get much better colour which is particularly important if you are growing it to have the winter stem colour in the cold season.

Shrubby dogwoods – grown for winter stems

Cornus alba

If you are growing Cornus alba, Cornus sericea and Cornus sanguinea which are renowned for there bright winter stems, they will grow better in damp conditions where other types of Cornus and other shrubs for that matter might fail. Again, to get the most out of the winter stems they are best grown in full sun.

Creeping dogwood – Cornus canadensis

Cornus canadensis
Cornus canadensis

If you want to grow Cornus canadensis, then they need a more acidic soil so benefit from mixing in some ericaceous compost when planting and feeding with an ericaceous feed.


Keeping well watered while the plant establishes is essential

It’s important to water it thoroughly during the first few years you have planted the Dogwood and then to water thoroughly thereafter during any dry spells.

Feeding Cornus

At the end of winter and beginning of Spring as the Dogwood is getting ready to transition, top dress it with a slow-release fertilizer or feed such as fish, blood and bone. If you noticed that the flowering is less than ideal, you can supplement the feed with a high potassium feed in the spring or the summer to help encourage better flowering but is not always essential.

It’s important to add mulch around the base of the Dogwood to cover the roots in the spring and then again in the autumn, this also helps retain moisture while Cornus prefer, moist soil.

Pruning Cornus

Pruning cornus

Given its size, for the varieties grown for there bright winter stems such as Cornus alba, Cornus sericea and Cornus sanguinea, you want to use a method of pruning called coppicing. Coppicing is where you prune it back every year to encourage new growth for the coming winter. Pruning is best done between late March and early April just as the new growth is starting to encourage more fresh growth that will form the vibrant stems in winter. Don’t be afraid to prune hard as they respond very well to this.

Flowering Cornus such as Cornus controversa, Cornus alternifolia and Cornus florida don’t require much if any pruning as they will naturally form there tree shape.

Pruning Cornus in shady areas

Less frequent pruning which means pruning every two or three years is best if you are growing your Dogwood in an area that is semi shaded.

Pruning newly planted Cornus

If you have a newly planted Dogwood, do not prune it for the first two or three years while it is getting established. Once it’s established, then you can think about pruning.

Propagation – take hardwood cutting

You can propagate from seed however it is better to use hardwood cuttings or semi-hardwood cuttings and seed don’t always come true to variety and cuttings are very easy to take.

Cornus Problems

Cornus anthracnose (Fungus)


Cornus Dogwood can suffer from a very specific disease which is Cornus anthracnose. This is a fungal disease that kills the newer leaves and shoots. The infections cause dead blotches along the leaves and the eventual dieback of your younger stems. The damage typically takes place at the end of spring and can take place all the way through Autumn.

You will see symptoms of spots or blotches like dead tissue appearing on the leaves. With very wet conditions these blotches can get bigger until such time as the entire leaf shrivels and dies.

If you have a severe enough attack it will be fully at your entire Dogwood. You might also notice symptoms on the stems where young stems die back and you see what appear to be raised pimples along the bark. These are called bark cankers.

Fighting against Cornus anthracnose

In order to control this, you can remove any infected leaves immediately to reduce the infection in subsequent years. You can also choose resistance species which include most native European Cornus species but the popular Cornus florida and Cornus nuttallii can be severely affected.

However, beyond growing resistant varieties there are no fungicides available for household gardeners that are proven to work but it may be worth trying Provanto Fungus Fighter Concentrate to try and control it.

Honey fungus and root rot

root rot

There are some common problems that you might notice which include root rot or honey fungus. These are best dealt with using preventative measures. Make sure you have proper drainage and adequate sunlight for your dogwood to help prevent root rot. Regular mulching and proper pruning once your Dogwood is established will help with air circulation as well.

Honey fungus can also be sprayed with a fungicide to help treat infected plants.

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