Growing dogwoods from seed


How to Grow a Dogwood Tree from Seeds

The beautiful dogwood trees is native to the United States and parts of Asia. The distinctly intricate pink or white flowers are appreciated around the world. Before planting dogwood seeds, read these instructions to make sure your seeds develop into the beautiful flowering tree.

Step 1 – Collecting Dogwood Seeds

Collect seeds from the dogwood tree in the fall, before the first frost. The seeds will soften as they ripen and turn a brighter red. They are ripe when the seed pulp is soft to the touch and the seeds easily come off the branches.

Remove each from the red pulp that surrounds it. Soak in cool water for 24 hours to help further soften the pulp and make seed removal easier. Grab several seeds in your hands while under water and rub to push away pulp. The good seeds will sink to the bottom. Any bad seeds and pulp will float to the top. Remove seeds from the water and dry.

Step 2 – Wintering Dogwood Seeds

Although some seeds will germinate if planted in the fall, you may want to keep them over winter and plant in the spring. Try both methods first, then choose the one that works best for you. Before planting in the fall, nick each seed coat with a file. For the rest of the seeds, store in a perforated plastic bag of moist peat moss (½ peat moss, ½ seeds) at room temperature.

About 3 months before the last frost in your area, move the bag into the refrigerator and keep about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Alternatively, you can store in a plastic bag with a silica gel tablet inside a sealed jar in the refrigerator.

Step 3 – Germinating Dogwood Seeds

Around 3 months after placing in the fridge, seeds should begin to germinate. Plant in seed trays about ¼-inch deep in a well-draining seed mix. You can make your own by mixing:

  • 3 parts river sand
  • 1 part pine bark, peat moss or vermiculite

Water immediately, then wait for soil to dry out before watering again. Seedlings should appear within a couple weeks.

Step 4 – Transplanting Dogwood Seedlings

If the outdoor soil temperature is above 59 degrees F, you may plant outdoors in a place that receives morning sun and afternoon shade. If its not quite warm enough, plant in a small (about 4 inch) container and keep indoors until the temperature warms. Water seedlings weekly if there is little rainfall.

Apply 10-10-10 fertilizer to soil before planting, about one teaspoon per square foot. Mulch around the seedlings with pine bark, straw or compost to help keep soil moist.

By the first or second winter, your dogwood will be ready to move into its permanent location.

Growing Dogwoods

Circular 900 View PDF picture_as_pdf

By Gary L. Wade, Former Extension Horticulturist

Reviewed by Bodie Pennisi

  • Selecting Plants
  • Varieties
  • Soil Preparation/Planting
  • Planting Season
  • Additional Precautions
  • Mulching and Watering
  • Fertilizing
  • Pests
  • Flowering
  • Growing from Seed

One of the most widely planted ornamental trees in Georgia is the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). It is native to the eastern United States and can be found growing throughout Georgia. The showy part of a dogwood flower is actually bracts, which are modified leaves that turn color. The true flower parts in the center of the bracts are less showy. Dogwoods are not difficult to grow if they are located in the proper site and if healthy trees are purchased and planted properly.

Selecting Plants

Select healthy dogwoods with good form. Avoid trees with damage to the stems or trees which appear under stress. Container-grown dogwoods should have healthy white root systems which are not pot-bound.

Select bareroot and B & B (balled and burlapped) trees whose root systems have been protected from drying out by being “heeled-in” to moist sawdust or other organic materials.


Most of the flowering dogwoods planted in Georgia are the white-bracted native form, which are grown from seed. An increasing number of vegetatively produced selections are being introduced as named varieties. These dogwoods are more expensive than those propagated from seed, but are usually well worth the added cost since they may flower at an earlier age or be more showy in flower. Some of the more popular varieties are listed below:

White Bracts

  • Barton
  • Cherokee Daybreak
  • Cherokee Princess
  • Cloud 9
  • Bay Beauty
  • Plena
  • Weaver’s White
  • Welchii
  • Wetch’s Bay Beauty

Pink/Red Bracts

  • American Beauty Red
  • Cherokee Chief
  • Cherokee Sunset
  • Junior Miss
  • Stokes Pink

Planting Site

Dogwoods are adaptable to several types of soils; however, they naturally grow in moist, fertile soils high in organic matter. They are never found in poorly drained locations in the woods. Their primary demands are good soil drainage and protection from drought. Planting in poorly drained areas will usually result in the tree dying.

Best results will be obtained when dogwoods are planted in association with larger trees that provide moderate shade. In the wild the dogwood is commonly found as an understory tree growing under hardwoods and pines. Growth problems are more likely in hot, dry exposures. On the other hand, planting in dense shade will likely result in poor flowering.

Soil Preparation/Planting

Inadequate soil preparation will cause establishment problems and slow growth. Research indicates that optimal growth is achieved when a large, wide planting hole is dug and the backfill soil is well worked. Make certain the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Then backfill with the same soil removed from the hole after breaking apart clods and removing stones or other debris. Place organic material on top as a mulch rather than in the planting hole as an amendment. In compacted clay soils a large planting hole with loose backfill soil is essential for proper plant establishment.

Planting Season

Container-grown plants can be planted anytime if they’re watered carefully. Plant balled and burlapped (B & B) trees and bareroot trees when they are dormant (November-March).

Additional Precautions

Damage to the trunk of dogwoods by “bumping” with lawn mowers invites invasion by dogwood borers. Larvae of this insect feed underneath the bark, and can kill the tree. The most satisfactory way to protect the trunk from lawn mower damage is to drive three metal stakes into the ground about 6 inches from the trunk. Mulch the area to prevent weed and grass growth under the tree and to eliminate the need for close mowing and cultivation.

If the tree is more than 4 feet tall, it may be necessary to stake and tie it so it’s held firmly in place until the roots are established, one to two growing seasons. Tie supporting wire just above the lowest scaffold branches so that the top portion of the tree can sway in the wind. This allows for sturdier trunk growth. Place wire inside a piece of old garden hose to prevent it from injuring the bark.

Mulching and Watering

Adequate water during the first two growing seasons may determine whether dogwood trees live or die. Water them thoroughly once or twice a week during dry periods. Watering too frequently, however, saturates the soil and may rot the roots. Continue to water during the dry fall months.

Most tree roots are within the top 12 inches of soil, and they extend several feet beyond the spread of the canopy. Mulching a wide area under the tree will maintain an even moisture level and will insulate the roots from winter cold and summer heat. Pine straw, pine bark or fall leaves, applied to a depth of 3 to 4 inches, provides an excellent mulch.


Any general purpose fertilizer, such as 16-4-8 or 12-4-8, can be used. Many recently planted trees are killed by heavy fertilization. Do not over-fertilize young trees in an effort to accelerate growth. On small trees 12 to 24 inches tall, apply one level tablespoonful in March and July. A newly-planted dogwood 6 feet tall requires about ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) of a 12-4-8 or 16-4-8 fertilizer in March and again in July. Evenly broadcast the fertilizer on the soil surface covering a radius 2 feet from the trunk.

For established trees, ½ pound (1 cup) of a 12-4-8 or 16-4-8 per inch of trunk diameter (4 feet above ground level) in March and again in July is adequate. For an 8 to 10 percent nitrogen source, increase the rate by one-third. Apply one-third of the fertilizer beyond the dripline of the foliage since the roots of established trees extend into this area. Do not concentrate the fertilizer in an area near the trunk.

For older trees with trunk diameters more than 8 inches (4 feet above ground level), these rates can be reduced since accelerated growth is usually not desired.

Nursery-grown dogwoods have better root systems than trees collected from the woods. However, you can successfully transplant young trees from the wild. First, never dig wild plants without the property owner’s knowledge and permission. Tag desirable trees during the growing season to help you find them during the dormant season (January – February), which is the proper time to transplant. Select trees fewer than 3 feet tall and try to dig as many fibrous roots as possible. Protect the roots at all times to keep them moist until the tree is planted. Follow soil preparation and planting guidelines previously outlined.


The most common insect pest on established dogwood trees is the dogwood borer. The larvae of the borer lives in the cambial area and can kill branches or entire trees. They enter trees through the bark. The best prevention is to avoid damage to the bark with equipment such as lawn mowers or weed eaters.

Dogwood anthracnose is the disease that can cause tree decline and mortality. It has been confirmed in northern Georgia. It initially shows up as leaf spots and stem cankers. It is often confused with the more common Spot Anthracnose that occurs as reddish-purple spots on flower bracts and leaves. If you suspect your tree of having the disease, contact your county extension agent for positive identification.


All dogwoods are potential flower producers; however, trees grown from seed vary in the age at which they begin flowering. Fast growers will usually be delayed in beginning the flowering cycle. Those that produce an abundance of flowers and follow up with a heavy berry crop will likely produce a small number of flowers the next year. Also, trees located in heavy shade tend to produce fewer flowers than those in full sun. Flower buds are quite evident in September; therefore, it is possible to predict the number of flowers that will be produced the next spring.

Growing from Seed

Dogwoods can be grown easily from seeds collected from native trees. Collect seed in late October in South Georgia and in November in the northern half of the state. Soak the seed in water for one or two days to soften the pulp. Remove the external pulp by hand or by rubbing the seed against a fine wire screen. Non-viable seed will float to the top during soaking. Plant seed immediately in a well-prepared seedbed, pot or flat containing well drained media such as one part peat to one part sand. Seed can also be stored in moist (not wet) peat moss (one-half seed, one-half peat moss) in the refrigerator at 35 degrees to 40 degrees until spring. Plant the seed approximately 0.5 inch deep and 1 inch apart. Space rows approximately 6 inches apart. Mulch the seedbed lightly with pine straw, pine bark or compost to keep it moist. Place screening over the beds to eliminate digging by rodents.

Seedlings are quite weak when they first emerge in the spring and it is important to water them gently twice a week if rainfall does not occur. Keep them watered throughout the summer and fall.

Fertilization will be necessary to achieve maximum growth and strong stems. A general purpose fertilizer, such as 16-4-8, 12-4-8 or 10-10-10, may be used at the rate of one level teaspoon per square foot of bed area. Scatter the fertilizer on the surface and water in. Repeat applications each six weeks until early September should result in maximum growth.

Seedlings can then be transplanted to their permanent location during the first or second winter. Take care to dig as many roots as possible and to prevent the feeder roots from becoming dry during the transplanting process.

Status and Revision History
Published on May 01, 1994
Published on Feb 27, 2009
Published with Full Review on Feb 15, 2012
Published with Full Review on Feb 24, 2015

How to Grow Beautiful, Flowering Dogwood Trees from Seed

Posted August 5th, 2015 by Garden & Greenhouse in Landscaping & Yard Care Articles, Ornamental Plant Articles, April 2016

Right now all the Dogwood trees in your neighborhood are loaded with bright red seed pods. Here is the step by step formula for growing Dogwood trees from seed.

1. Collect the seed pods from the tree, or even from around the tree on the ground.

2. Soak the seed pods in a pail of water for several days to soften the outer coating so you can easily squeeze the seeds from the pods.

3. While still in the water squeeze the seed from the pods. The seeds will settle to the bottom of the pail, while the pulp will float to the top of the pail. Slowly add water

to the pail so it slowly overflows. Tip the pail slightly and allow the pods to wash out of the pail until all of the pulp is out of the pail.

4. Using a strainer or a window screen pour out the water and seeds, catching the seeds in the strainer or screen. Allow the seeds to dry in the sun for a day or two. Be careful where you put them to dry because chipmunks and other critters love them and will eat them all when you aren’t looking!

5. Once dry collect the seeds and place them in a paper bag to store in a cool dry place until February 1st. On February 1st put mix them up with some sand, and or peat moss and place in a plastic bag. Place the bag with the seed mixture in the refrigerator and leave it there for 90 to 100 days. Don’t let it freeze. Freezing won’t hurt the seeds but it will stall the stratification process.

6. After 90 to 100 days fill a plastic flat with a good seed starting potting mix. Use a mix that drains well. Pour out the seeds and peat/sand mix on top of the flat, the cover the seeds with about 1/4″ of soil.

7. Place the flat in a partially sunny, partially shady location. Keep the flat watered, but allow the soil to dry between waterings so the soil has a chance to warm up and initiate germination. Within a few weeks to several weeks you’ll start to see your tiny little dogwood trees emerge.

8. You can leave them in the flat until fall, or you can transplant them to small pots or cell packs before they are rooted in.

That’s it. You can use this same process for Chinese dogwood as well.

Mike McGroarty is a Garden & Greenhouse contributing editor, the owner of McGroarty Enterprises and the author of several books. You can visit his website at and read his blog at

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Milky Way Chinese Dogwood Tree

Chinese Dogwood trees are really special because they bloom later than most flowering trees and often bloom longer.

Here in zones 5 and 6, they don’t start blooming until at least June. The blooms open a beautiful mint green in color and then whiten as time goes on.

Milky Way Chinese Dogwood Tree

As you can see from this photo they are easy to maintain in size if you have them in a spot where they need to remain small.

This one has been in my landscape for eight years. We (mostly Pam) keep it trimmed so it does not grow a lot taller.

Milky Way Chinese Dogwood Tree

There’s not much difference between the ‘Milky Way’ Chinese Dogwood tree and a regular Chinese Dogwood tree, Cornus kousa, except one really big thing. Milky Way blooms at a very young age!

The standard Chinese Dogwood trees which are typically grown from seed can take up to 7 to 10 years before they make their first flower. Where Milky Way blooms when really young, which makes it the preferred variety.

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Milky Way Chinese Dogwood Tree

There are a number of different ways to propagate ‘Milky Way’ Chinese Dogwoods.

Typically when you want to produce an exact clone of any hybrid plant you have to use a means of asexual reproduction such as rooting cuttings, budding, grafting or tissue culture.

Typically when you grow a plant from seed, which is sexual reproduction, you’ll get a seedling that resembles the parent plant but the seedling is not likely to have all of the desired characteristics that you were trying to capture.

So all of the above will work with the ‘Milky Way’ Chinese Dogwood. You can take softwood cuttings and root them during the summer, typically June in most climates is a good time.

Budding works great but in order to do budding, you first need a rootstock to bud onto which means that you would first have to grow a Chinese Dogwood from seed. The same holds true for grafting.

‘Milky Way’ Chinese Dogwood holds a secret that few are aware of.

They will come true from seed!

That means that if you collect seeds from a ‘Milky Way’ Chinese Dogwood and grow those seeds, a percentage of them, not all of them, but some of them will contain all of the genes that make ‘Milky Way’ so special.

Especially the highly desirable ability to bloom at a young age.

How Do You Know which Seedlings will be ‘Milky Way’?

You have to grow them out and watch them as they grow. The very first ones to make flowers in the first few years are sure to have those ‘Milky way’ characteristics.

Those that don’t have those characteristics won’t bloom for at least 5, 7 or even 10 years! Urrrrg.

How to Grow Chinese Dogwoods from Seed.

The trees bloom in early summer and after the flowers are spent seed pods start to form. Unlike other dogwood trees, the seed pod on a Chinese Dogwood are much larger, softer and squishy.

By fall these seed pods turn bright red and somewhat resemble and are almost as large as a strawberry. Allow the seed pods to remain on the tree all summer until fall.

You have to give the seeds inside of the seed pod time to mature. Typically once the seed pods start falling to the ground in the fall you can harvest the remaining seed pods from the tree.

Getting the Seeds Out of the Seed Pods.

Take an old window screen and place it on blocks so air can pass beneath and over the window screen. Spread the seed pods out on the window screen and allow them to dry.

As they dry you can crush the outer coating between your fingers and eventually you’ll be able to separate the seeds from the chaff. Do this in your garage.

If you do it outside chipmunks and other critters will rob you of your seeds. I promise you they will. It happened to me!

Once you have seeds in hand you have a couple of different options for getting them to germinate and I’ll share them both with you, but I’d have to say that option #1 is probably easier and equally effective.

Chinese Dogwood Seed Growing Option #1.

Fill a flat with a good seed starting mix. Do this in the fall, as soon as you have cleaned the seeds. Spread the seeds out evenly over the growing medium and gently press them into or tightly against the growing medium.

Next, sprinkle a very light layer of seed starting mix over the seeds. Just enough to cover them. The rule of thumb is twice the length of the seed. That’s how much soil you should have covering your seeds.

Next, take the flat outside and place it in a shady area that is protected from the wind. You are going to leave the flat outside in the protected area all winter.

The seeds have to absorb moisture and the outer coating of the seed has to soften before the seedling can grow. They also have to go through a cold treatment.

By leaving the flat outside in the cold, freezing, damp weather you are really mimicking what Mother Nature intended in order for the seedlings to grow. Don’t worry about them! They are not baby chicks! They need some harsh treatment.

You have to Critter Proof Your Flat of Seeds!

Make sure to cover your flat of seeds with a piece of hardware cloth (window screen) and make sure it is securely fastened down so chipmunks, field mice or the Lockness Monster can’t get to your seeds.

Come spring, about mid-spring, you can remove the screen and water the flat as needed. Don’t keep the growing medium soggy all the time. It takes heat to germinate seeds so let the soil dry and warm between watering.

Air Prune those Little Seedlings.

Once your seedlings have germinated I’d just leave them in the flat untouched until fall. Once they start growing you can raise the flat and put two boards under the flat.

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That will keep the seedlings from growing through the flat into the ground. This is known as air pruning. As the roots reach the bottom of the flat and start to grow through they are exposed to the air.

That exposure will kill the tips of the roots. That’s a good thing because what it does is when the tips of the roots are terminated via air pruning the plant starts to make more lateral roots and when you pull your seedlings from the flat they will have nice little, but full root balls.

Warning, Warning, Warning!

Once you raise that flat off the ground and allow air to circulate under the flat you will have to ramp up your watering schedule because the flat will dry out very easily with air passing beneath it.

Another option would be to place a piece of plastic under the flat and not let the air pass below. This may not work as well for root pruning, but if you think you might miss a watering, don’t take that chance.

Chinese Dogwood Seed Growing Option #2.

The second option is an indoor technique.

Clean the seeds as described above. Once you have the seeds cleaned just put them into a paper lunch bag and store them in a cool, dry place until late winter.

About early February get the seeds out and put them in a zip lock bag with some seed starting mix. Shake the bag up mixing the seeds with the seed starting mix.

Wet the mix well, then squeeze all of the water that you can out of the mix. Close the bag up, but poke a few holes in the bag so you have a little bit of air flow. Place the bag in your refrigerator and leave it there for 90 days.

This is known as stratifying the seeds. Basically, you are giving them the cold treatment that they need, and you are softening the outer coating of the seed with the damp, but not soggy soil mix.

After 90 days remove the bag from the refrigerator and look for sprouting seeds. As the seeds sprout just pick them out with tweezers and plant them in a flat of seed starting mix about 1/2 to 1 inch apart.

Leave the bag out in a warm area, room temperature, but not in direct sunlight, and watch for more sprouting seeds.

Keep the seedlings indoors until the danger of frost and freezing weather has safely passed, then move the flat outside in a shady area and water as described above.

Questions or comments? Post them below.

How to Grow Flowering Dogwood Trees from Seed

Last Updated: May 5, 2015 | by Mike McGroarty

Flowering Dogwood trees can be easily grown from seed, however 99.9999% of the seedlings that sprout will be Cornus Florida, which is White Flowering Dogwood. It doesn’t matter if you collect the seeds from a White Dogwood or a Pink Dogwood, the seedlings are likely to be white.

The only predictable way to grow a Pink Dogwood, Red Dogwood, or one of the beautiful Dogwoods with variegated leaves, is to bud or graft the desired variety onto a White Dogwood seedling. See this page for details on “budding”.

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Dogwood trees begin producing seeds right after the petals drop from the flowers. It’s a slow process that takes all summer. By late summer the seeds begin to turn red, which means they are just about mature. Don’t pick them too early or the embryo will not be fully developed and they will not be viable. When the seeds are fully developed they will begin to fall from the tree, and at that time you can begin to pick them.

Ripe seeds can be removed easily. If they don’t pop right off when you grab them, they are not quite ready, give them another week or two. Don’t let them fall to the ground, the chipmunks, birds and other critters love them, and usually eat them as fast as they fall.

Once picked, let them sit for a week or so, until the pulp begins to soften. At that time soak them in a pail of water to further soften the pulp. While still in the pail of water squeeze the seeds between your fingers to separate the seeds from the pulp.

Once they are separated slowly add water to the pail until it over flows, allowing the water to flow over the edge of the pail slowly. The viable seeds should sink to the bottom of the pail, while the pulp should float to the top. Allow the pulp to float out of the pail until you have nothing but clean seeds laying on the bottom of the pail.

Drain the water and spread the seeds out on a table to dry. Once dry the seeds can be stored in a cool dry place. They will keep this way for some time.

Because Dogwood seeds have a very hard outer coating on the seed, they need to be pretreated or stratified before they will germinate. This process softens the outer coating so that water and oxygen can enter, initiating the germination process.

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There are several ways to stratify Dogwood seeds, from treating them with acid to storing them in the refrigerator. I will share a couple of techniques that I think will work the best for someone with little experience.

One technique requires that you decide what day next spring you would like to plant the seeds and then counting backwards on your calendar for 210 days to start the stratification process. Here in the north May 15 is a good target date for planting because by then we should be safe from frost. You don’t want Mother Nature to do them in before they even have a chance.

210 days from May 15 would put you around Oct. 15 to start the stratification process. To stratify the seeds using this technique simply place them in a plastic bag with some moist (not wet!) peat moss, or a mixture of moist peat and sand. Poke some holes in the bag, you don’t want it air tight. Store them in this mixture at room temperature for a period of 105 days.

After 105 days move them to your refrigerator for another 105 days. Don’t put them way in the back where they might freeze. You want them cool, but not frozen. After 105 days of storage in the refrigerator they should be ready to plant outside. Just time it so that you get them outside just after the danger of frost has past.

While the seeds are being stored check them weekly, if you have fungus growing in the bag sprinkle a little fungicide in. Near the end of the storage period you should be checking for germination, as soon as 10% of the seeds have germinated they should be planted out. If it’s too early, plant them in a flat indoors, just make sure they get plenty of sunlight.

To plant them simply sprinkle the entire contents of the bag on top of the soil and spread it out. Sprinkle some light soil over top. Do not plant the seeds too deep. ¼” of soil over top is all you want. Water them thoroughly after planting, then allow the soil to dry out before watering again. Make sure you plant them in an area that drains well, you don’t want them in soggy soil or they will rot.

That’s one technique. Another technique is to nick each seed in a couple of different places with a knife right after the seeds are cleaned, and plant them out immediately in the fall. Cover the seed bed with a piece of screen so the critters don’t dig them up and eat them.

Which technique works better?

I don’t know. There are so many variables that can change the out come that I have not seen where one works better than the other. I suggest you do some each way and see what works best for you. I like getting them planted right away in the fall and putting Mother Nature in charge, but it’s disappointing if something happens and you have a poor stand, that’s why it’s always nice to try some both ways.

You can also grow Chinese Dogwood (Cornus Kousa) from seed. Chinese Dogwood is very popular because it flowers much later than most other ornamentals. Late June is usually when they are in bloom, and the flowers are cream colored against dark green foliage. It makes the flowers look mint green in color. Just use the same techniques as above.

Questions? I do my best to answer all questions on my blog…

Growing and Caring for Dogwood Trees: What You Need to Know Now

Flowering dogwood. Photo by liz west

If you’ve ever seen a gorgeous dogwood tree in bloom, that may be enough to send you on a mission to grow one in your yard. These long-time flowering favorites can be a real showstopper in your garden, and there are numerous colors to match virtually any palette. Read on to learn all the dogwood tree information you need to know to add this flowering ornamental species to your yard and have it thrive for decades to come, including dogwood trees planting and care tips.

Where do dogwood trees grow?

Dogwood trees, or Corunus florida, as they are known in Latin, are native to the eastern half of the United States. Now, they can be found throughout the United States, but they are always associated with the American South, where they do particularly well. You can find dogwood trees on public lands and in private gardens, and they are a popular addition to many college campus landscaping schemes, perhaps because of their association with the welcome arrival of spring after a long winter. In some parts of the country, you can even still discover dogwood trees growing in the wild in forest lands.

How big do dogwood trees get?

Dogwood trees generally grow from about 25 to 30 feet, although the average home garden tree usually winds up on the small side, about 15 to 25 feet tall. One of the reasons homeowners love dogwoods so much is that they don’t become so huge that they are hard to maintain or a hazard to power lines or roofs. When you plant a dogwood tree outside your window, you will be able to enjoy the blossoms when it is full grown, and you won’t be staring at the trunk, while the more decorative part of the tree towers over your home.

How fast does a dogwood tree grow?

Dogwood trees, when properly tended, grow at a rate of a little over one foot per year. This is another reason home gardeners favor them. If you plant a dogwood tree this year, you may be able to enjoy it as a full-size tree in about a decade. That’s a pretty short wait for such a beautiful addition to your garden.

How do you know where to plant dogwood trees?

Flowering dogwood tree. Photo by Heather Katsoulis

The easiest way to decide where to plant a dogwood tree in your yard is to mimic as closely as possible the environment in which it grows naturally. In their wild forest environment, dogwoods are understory trees. This means that they grow with other trees above them. Try to plant your dogwood tree on the edge of a group of trees to replicate this natural protection. Evergreens pair well with dogwoods and offer a nice backdrop for the white or pink dogwood flowers of spring and the purplish foliage of autumn.

From this description, you probably guessed correctly that dogwoods do best in partial shade. While you can grow dogwood trees in both full sun and complete shade, an in-between location is ideal. Too much shade, and you’ll experience poor flowering with your dogwood, while too much sun limits growth. Hot, dry locations also subject the tree to heat stress and make it more likely to fall victim to dogwood borers. You’ll have to water your tree quite a bit more too if you plant it in full sun.

What are some tips for how to grow a dogwood tree?

Dogwood 4. Photo by John Walsh

1. Look for healthy specimens.

Immature dogwood trees come in several types of packaging at the nursery. Bare root or burlap-wrapped trees are meant to be planted in late fall or early spring, whereas those in containers can be planted any time they can be watered after planting. Either way, look for sturdy, straight trunks without any damage and healthy looking leaves with no brown or yellow spots. Check the bottom of trees in containers to make sure they are not root-bound; the ends of the roots shouldn’t be sticking out of the container in an attempt to find more space.

2. Pick the proper soil.

Dogwood trees need well drained, humus soil that is ideally slightly acidic. You can test the pH of your soil easily with a kit purchased at the nursery or online. The soil quality shouldn’t be too sandy, nor should it be heavy clay. A dogwood tree planted in clay soil will eventually rot and die as it will hold water for too long. Know that dogwood trees have roots that extend at least 12 inches below the plant and beyond the leaf canopy horizontally. If you make improvements to your soil for your tree, make sure it covers the entire area the tree’s roots will occupy when mature. Read our Ultimate Guide for Having the Most Rewarding Soil here.

3. Use the right planting technique.

Plant your dogwood tree about two-thirds of the depth of the root ball. Leave the very top of the root ball exposed. Replace the soil around the root ball carefully, and make sure the soil has been loosened to allow for good drainage around the roots.

4. Mulch your dogwood tree.

Many gardeners find it helpful to mulch the area under the tree. This keeps weeds at bay, offers some nutrients to the soil as the mulch decomposes and helps hold water during warm, dry spells. Don’t mulch all the way to the trunk of the tree; leave a few inches of space around the trunk mulch-free. You can prepare compost yourself using a chipper shredder.

5. Water your dogwood tree regularly.

Your dogwood tree will always need regular watering when it doesn’t rain, but it will be particularly susceptible to drying out when it is first planted. Make sure to give it a good watering when you first plant it to help it settle in, and then water it regularly thereafter, depending on your climate and natural precipitation. If there is no rain, it will likely need a good soaking to get the water down to the level of the ends of the roots, at least 12 inches.

6. Use judicious pruning.

Dogwood trees typically don’t need a lot of pruning. Most gardeners usually find they prune their dogwoods solely for aesthetic reasons, such as a stray branch growing in the wrong direction. If you plant your dogwood far enough from any structures, you won’t have to worry about pruning to protect the roof line. Use a pruning saw to make any cuts, and step back to view your tree from a distance between cuts, so you don’t over-prune.

7. Stake your tree if necessary

Some immature dogwood trees need staking the first season or two for support. This may be the case for your tree if you live in a windy area or if your tree is under four feet tall when first planted. Place the wires above the first level of branches, so the trunk receives good support but the top can sway in the wind, helping the tree build strength. Cover the wires with old garden hose or a similar material, so they don’t cut into the branches.

8. Don’t over-fertilize your dogwood tree.

Many gardeners over-fertilize their dogwood trees because they think they’re not growing fast enough or want them to grow faster than they naturally do. If your dogwood truly needs nutrition because of poor soil, you can use an all-purpose fertilizer, such as a 16-4-8 formula. You will need about one-half pound, or approximately one cup, of fertilizer for every inch of tree trunk diameter. Spread the fertilizer around the entire root area, and don’t concentrate it too close to the trunk.

9. Protect your tree from pests.

Dogwood borers are the most common insect pest you will probably encounter. The larvae enter the tree through the bark and eat it from the inside out. Protect your tree from dogwood borers by making sure you don’t nick the bark with garden tools when doing yard maintenance or pruning.

10. Try growing dogwood trees from seed.

If you like your dogwood trees and want a bunch more of them, you can grow them from seed, although bear in mind that these will almost always result in white dogwood trees, even if the seeds come from a pink dogwood. The “flowers” that bloom in spring are really “bracts,” or colored leaves, with a true yellow flower in the center. When these fall off, the tree starts to produce seeds that look like red berries and appear in the fall. When the seeds begin to fall from the tree, they are mature enough to plant other trees. Soak them in a pail of water for about a week to soften the pulp, then squeeze them to push the seeds out of the pulp. Discard any seeds that float to the top of the pail, and use the seeds that remain on the bottom. Nick each seed with a knife, and plant them right away in the fall, protecting them from squirrels and other critters that might want to dig them up.

Many people who start with one dogwood tree find they can’t stop there and wind up planting many more. Follow the tips above, and you too can have a yard full of these flowering beauties!

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Dogwood Guide

Dogwood Planting Instructions

Caring for your new dogwood:

Your new dogwoods are bareroot saplings, about 12 inches long, which require care before you plant them. The dogwoods have arrived with material around the roots to keep them moist. Please make sure you keep this material covering the roots until you are ready to plant, and plant them as soon as possible to ensure survival. If you can’t plant immediately, saplings should be kept in in a refrigerated unit at a temperature between 33 and 38 degrees F with 85 to 95 percent humidity. If no refrigeration is available, saplings can be stored at 38 to 50 degrees F for 2 to 3 weeks, or at 50 to 75 degrees F for 3 to 5 days. Temperatures above 85 degrees F will quickly kill stored saplings.

Selecting where to plant your dogwood:

Choose a site for your dogwoods that is well-drained but does not get extremely dry. Soil high in organic matter is best. Dogwoods can be planted in full sun or partial shade, though partial shade is best (morning sun in particular). Dogwoods are typically an understory tree in the wild. Dogwoods are easy care trees that will likely bloom by their second year, but sometimes will bloom in their first year.

Planting your dogwood:

Before you plant, cut off any damaged roots with a sharp knife, and soak plant roots in water for 3-4 hours. Bareroot saplings can be planted with a planting bar (often called a dibble), shovel or mattock. Saplings should be planted no deeper than the depth they were planted in the nursery. You can tell the depth in the nursery by a slight color change on the stem. If you cannot see the color change, you should plant the trees with the graft unions above grade, around one inch. Mulch should not cover the union as it will kill the tree.

Make sure the hole is big enough to allow the roots to be spread out, at least 1 foot wider than the root spread. Roots should be pointing straight down in the hole and not “J” rooted (roots bent back pointing towards the top of the hole). Fill with same soil that came from hole-mix topsoil and subsoil together. Watch Arbor Day Foundation’s video on how to plant bare root saplings.

From “Planting Landscape Trees and Shrubs” Michael N. Dana, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, West Lafayette, IN (1995).

Maintaining your dogwood:

We recommend that you mark your planted tree with a flag or a protective tree sleeve (examples here and here) to protect your new tree until it becomes established. Place a layer of 3-4 inches of mulch around your newly planted trees, taking care to not pile the mulch too high on the trunk of the tree. You may fertilize your dogwoods at the time of planting and first watering, but do not fertilize again until the second year. Watering during winter is rarely necessary. In summer and fall, water once or twice a week. When watering, thoroughly soak root-zone area and beyond. After the first growing season, rainfall should be adequate except in times of drought. Fertilize trees in the second year twice a year, in February and mid-June. Fertilize with 3 oz of nitrogen per 100 sq feet of ground area surrounding tree, and water after fertilizing. Do not prune your dogwood until the second year.

Annual care

  • Keep the soil within 30 cm (1 ft) of the base of each plant free of grass and weeds with a mulch of peat moss, bark, leaves, wood chips, or similar composted organic material.
  • During a long dry period, supplemental irrigation may be needed.


Plants should be pruned every 5-10 years to maintain good shape. Avoid fall pruning because it will destroy the buds for the next year. Avoid pruning old, dried-up flowers.


Appalachian Spring is the only flowering dogwood resistant to dogwood anthracnose disease. Occasionally Appalachian Spring may be affected by powdery mildew, scale, borers, mites, or the Asian ambrosia beetle. Control measures rarely are needed for properly maintained plants – supplemental watering of plants in full sun during periods of drought and prevention of damage from gardening tools. If pests become serious, regular applications of a pesticide may be necessary. Contact the Agricultural Extension Service in your area for current control recommendations.


Place a wooden or metal stake beside each new plant to indicate clearly its location. This will help to prevent accidental damage by lawn mowers or people. In some locations rodents, such as rabbits and mice, may severely damage the plants. Wire-mesh guards around the base of the plants help to control such damage. Larger wire guards will be necessary to protect the whole plant in areas where deer or other large animals browse.

Other resources:

Find your local extension office:

For more information about Dogwoods:

For more information about planting bareroot tree and shrub seedlings, contact the South Carolina Forestry Commission or the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Project HELP (Habitat Enhancement Land Program) (800) 843-6983

For more information on care of your dogwood:

Monitoring Your Dogwood

Now that you have planted your dogwoods, make regular observations to track the timing of their leafing, flowering, and fruits (phenophases).

To get started…

1. Sign up as a USA-NPN observer – Become an official participant with Nature’s Notebook and set your username and password. All you need is an email address and Internet access.

2. Make observations – We invite you to track several phenophases of your dogwoods, including:

· Leaves: breaking leaf buds, leaves, increasing leaf size, and falling leaves

· Flowers: flowers or flower buds and open flowers

· Fruits: fruits, ripe fruits, and recent fruit or seed drop

For a description of each phenophase and to download datasheets for your dogwoods, visit our webpage at

3. Report your observations – As you collect data during the season, log in to your Nature’s Notebook account and enter the observation data you recorded.

More details on the specifics of observing.

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