Red twig dogwood cuttings

Starting Dogwoods From Cuttings: When To Take Cuttings Of Dogwood

Propagating dogwood cuttings is easy and inexpensive. You can easily make enough trees for your own landscape, and a few more to share with friends. For the home gardener, the easiest and fastest method of dogwood tree propagation is taking softwood cuttings. Find out how to grow dogwood cuttings in this article.

Propagating Dogwood Cuttings

Knowing when to take cuttings of dogwood stems can mean the difference between successful propagation and failure. The best time to cut is in the spring, as soon as the tree completes its bloom cycle. You know the stem is ready to cut if it snaps when you bend it in half.

Cuttings aren’t always successful, so take more than you need. The cuttings should be three to five inches long. Make the cut about an inch below a set of leaves. As you take cuttings, lay them in a plastic basin lined with damp paper towels and cover them with another damp towel.

Here are the steps in starting dogwoods from cuttings:

  1. Remove the bottom set of leaves from the stem. This creates wounds to let the rooting hormone in and encourage root growth.
  2. Cut the remaining leaves in half if they are long enough to touch the soil when you bury the end of the stem 1.5 inches deep. Keeping the leaves off the soil prevents rot, and shorter leaf surfaces lose less water.
  3. Fill a three-inch pot with rooting medium. You can buy commercial medium or use a mixture of sand and perlite. Don’t use regular potting soil, which holds too much moisture and causes the stem to rot before it roots. Moisten the rooting medium with water.
  4. Role or dip the bottom 1.5 inches of the stem in rooting hormone and tap it to remove the excess.
  5. Stick the lower 1.5 inches of the stem in the rooting medium and then firm the medium so that the stems stand straight. Mist the cutting with water.
  6. Place the potted cutting inside a large plastic bag and seal it to create a mini greenhouse. Make sure the leaves don’t touch the sides of the bag. If necessary, you can hold the bag away from the plant by placing clean wooden sticks around the edge of the pot.
  7. Check the dogwood cutting for roots once a week. You can look at the bottom of the pot to see if roots are coming through or give the stem a gentle tug. Once roots form, the stem will resist a tug. You should find that the cutting has roots within six weeks.
  8. Remove the plastic bag when you’re sure you have roots, and place the new plant in a sunny window. Keep the soil moist at all times. Use half-strength liquid fertilizer every two weeks until the plant is growing well.
  9. When the dogwood cutting outgrows its little pot, repot it into a larger pot filled with regular potting soil.

When you think of the Dogwood Tree, you probably envision different trees depending on where you live. If you live in Eastern North America, you’ll think of the white or pink Flowering Dogwood, a hallmark of spring.

If you live in Western North America, Eurasia, or Eastern Asia, you are probably more familiar with a non-flowering variety, or a variety that produces edible red fruit.

Also referred to commonly as “Hound’s Tree” or “Whipple Tree”, the Dogwood is known for its remarkably hard wood, used in specialty tool handles and walking sticks by artisans.

While the Dogwood is most notably an ornamental tree, particularly in North America, some varieties, like Cornus kousa and Cornus mas are sold as fruit trees. Cornus kousa trees bear a sweet fruit with flesh that tastes like a tropical pudding, while Cornus mas produce fruits that are both tart and sweet when ripe.

Another variant, Cornus officinalis, is prized in traditional Chinese medicine, where it is used for weakness, dizziness, lower back and knee pain, or to treat excessive sweating, uterine bleeding, or bladder incontinence.

Although there are nearly 60 different varieties of Dogwood trees, we’ll focus on the Flowering Dogwood, which is the most popular variety in horticulture, and the variety most likely to be chosen for a garden.

The Flowering Dogwood ranges in color from a pristine, soft white to a vibrant pink or red, and generally bloom for about two weeks out of the year in early spring, typically April or May, although they may bloom for up to four weeks.

Planting and Transplanting the Flowering Dogwood

Dogwoods grown in containers can be planted or transplanted any time of the year, with regular watering, while bare root or burlap dogwood trees should only be transplanted in the late fall or early spring, when it’s less likely that you’ll lose them to a sudden frost

All dogwood trees should be planted at a depth of approximately two-thirds the length of its root ball, with the soil gently mounded around the sides, with no soil over the top of the ball, which should be slightly above ground level.

Plants should be grown between 6 and 20 feet apart, depending on the expected size of the mature tree.

Water your dogwood thoroughly and regularly until it is established, then water once a week unless the weather is unusually hot or dry.

Caring for an Established Dogwood

During hot, dry weather, dogwoods should be watered regularly. During normal weather, flowering dogwoods should be watered once a week.

Pruning is seldom necessary except to remove dead or injured branches, suckers, or diseased and insect infested parts. You may also prune to shape your dogwood into a more attractive shape.

Summer is the most ideal time to prune dogwoods, as they bleed sap if pruned in winter. If you prune too soon, you may stunt next season’s flowers.

Compost should be added under the tree each spring, spreading out to the dripline. If mulch is desired, add a 2 inch layer around the base to reduce weed growth.

Height and Spread of a Flowering Dogwood

A typical healthy, mature flowering dogwood can be expected to reach a height of between 15 to 30 feet, with a spread of 15 to 20 feet.

Other variants of dogwood come in smaller sizes, with the most common shrub dogwoods growing from 6 to 20 feet tall and wide. One of the smallest varieties is a ground cover form that only grows from 3 to 9 inches tall.

Preferred Soil Type

Dogwoods are versatile plants that do well in acidic, loamy, moist, rich, sandy, well drained, and clay soils, preferring moist conditions to dry.

Flowering dogwoods do best with well-drained, rich soil, while other varieties prefer more acidic soil.

Sun or Shade Preference

Dogwoods prefer a minimum of 4 hours of full sun each day, with the rest of the day spent in partial shade.

Blooming Period

Buds begin to form on the trees in late winter, blooming for 2 to 4 weeks in April and May. The ornamental appeal of these trees may seem strange when you consider the short blooming period of the dogwood, but they make up for the short blooming period in other ways.

In the summer, the spring blossoms are traded for light green leaves and the shade they bring. As the season turns to fall, those leaves turn a vibrant red. In winter, the alligator-like texture of the bark is its main ornamentation.

The Japanese dogwood blooms later than other flowering varieties, blooming in late spring and early summer after the leaves have already unfurled.

Hardiness Zones

Flowering dogwoods can be expected to grow in hardiness zones 5 through 9.

Pests and Disease

Aphids and mildew can be a problem with dogwoods, but applying a fungicide and horticultural oils in spring can help prevent these minor pests.

The disease that most effects dogwoods is the dogwood anthracnose fungus, which can be identified by light brown spots on the leaves that spread to the twigs, main branches, and then to the trunk, often killing the tree within two to three years. Planting your tree in a spot where they receive morning sun and good air circulation, and raking your leaves during the fall to reduce rot near the base of the tree can prevent this fungus.

In Popular Culture

In addition to the wide horticultural use in the United States, the flowering dogwood is the subject of several legends.

One of these legends is from the Cherokee people, who believed that a tiny race of people lived in the dogwoods and watched over the elderly and infants.

Dogwoods are also the subject of a Christian legend dating back to the early 20th century, which claims that the dogwood tree was used to create Jesus’ crucifixion cross and was changed into a smaller form to prevent it from ever being used for such a purpose again. While the story itself is pretty, dogwoods are not native to Israel or Palestine.


Red-Osier Dogwood

Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)


This low spreading shrub, seldom reaching more than 4 feet (1.2 m) in height, is easily identified by its red bark. It has small flat clusters of white flowers, producing white berries. Leaves are typical of dogwoods, with distinct veins running towards the tip, while buds are small and opposite.

Growing Conditions:

Found on wet sites and tolerant of flooding, it is common in roadside ditches, damp areas of fields and on streambanks, although it can grow well on drier sites. This dogwood spreads by suckering and layering, forming dense thickets. It grows best in full sun, but will grow slowly, and with less fruit production, in shade.


One of the easiest shrubs to grow from either summer or winter cuttings. For larger transplants, make cuttings in the summer and plant to a nursery bed when roots are established. Using this technique, our plants averaged 14 inches (35 cm) at the end of the second summer, with the tallest 24 inches (60 cm). Some were even producing seed. Smaller rooted cuttings are useful in stream plantings, enabling you to put in large numbers of plants with little soil disturbance. Cuttings can also be taken in the spring and stuck right in the ground where you would like the plants to grow, although you need moist, protected conditions and can expect less success. Seeds take one or two years to germinate, depending on the hardness of the seed coat, but they are easily collected in large numbers and worthwhile growing. Collect when ripe from late July to the end of August. Crush fruit, separate and soak seed for 12 hours before planting. This dogwood also transplants very well, especially from roadside ditches.

Wildlife Uses:

Berries are a preferred food of ruffed grouse, northern flicker, downy woodpecker, eastern kingbird, common crow, gray catbird, American robin, Swainson’s thrush, evening grosbeak, cedar waxwing and purple finch. They are well utilised by dozens of other species of songbirds, particularly during fall migration. The branches and foliage form dense summer cover, offering protection and nesting sites for species such as the American goldfinch. Flowers are an important source of pollen for honey bees. Red squirrels, chipmunks and raccoons include red osier dogwood in their diets, while snowshoe hare and beaver browse the twigs in winter.

Areas of Usage:

One of the most useful native shrubs for landscaping purposes, red osier dogwood is attractive throughout the year. Creamy white flowers, deep green foliage and red twigs (which make a striking contrast against a winter snowfall) make it an excellent choice for border or clump plantings. This shrub is also well suited for streamside plantings, especially since it is tolerant of flooding. It makes fairly rapid growth on sunny, moist sites and the spreading roots bind soil to control erosion. Thick foliage provides summer shade to maintain cool water temperatures for fish, while the cover and berries offer additional benefits for birds. Red osier dogwood is a good low growth shrub in windbreaks if conditions are not too dry. Clumps of these shrubs, so easy to grow or transplant, will add food, cover and beauty to plantings and increase the number of wildlife species that make use of your windbreak.

Additional Information:

Red-Osier Dogwood is found in damp sites throughout the province. It is a small shrub from three to six feet in height. The whi-like branches often divide into ascending branches topped with a rounded crown. It spreads by means of under-ground shoots so that a single plant quickly makes itself into a thicket. It is found in damp sites along the borders of swamps, streams and brooks, in pure thickets or with speckled alder. It is also found along hedges and fences. Its deep red twigs, pale green leaves tinged with red and white flowers makes it an ideal shrub for ornamental planting. The wood is of no commercial use.


Because of their higher than average fat content, the white drupes of Red-Osier Dogwood are an important food source of wood ducks, songbirds, and upland gamebirds. The fallen leaves are eaten by some turtles, including snapping turtles, and we saw two big, old snappers in the pond last year.

When I read in Birdscaping in the Midwest: A Guide to Gardening with Native Plants to Attract Birds by Mariette Nowak about a very simple way to transplant red twig branches right now just before they bud out, Doug and I were very eager to try this technique. This is a great book and I am using it as one of my guides as we plan our landscape.

Many online sources describe a much more complex process of cutting twigs in the fall and then go into various methods of preparing them for spring planting, but according to Nowak, dogwoods can be propagated from stem cuttings by basically sticking them in the ground.

We have a thicket of dogwood on the edge of our prairie, so we went up there with pruners and a bucket of water. The stems should be 2-3 feet long and be kept wet from cutting till planting, preferably on the same day.

The bottom of the branch is cut on a slant. You make a hole in the ground by driving in a metal rod, then push in the branch and tap it on the flat-cut top to make a good connection.

Then water it and mulch it. And keep watering every week for the first season. Nowak suggests using twigs 1/2″ to 1-1/2″ thick. We planted a thick and thin one at each site to see which one works best.

I’m very hopeful that this simple method works. If it does, I am going to be transplanting dogwood to more areas.

What a great plant!

43.073052 -89.401230


Cornus stolonifera Red-osier Dogwood

(also known as Cornus sericea)

Native range extends over much of North America, except southeastern and lower midwestern states; from Newfoundland to Manitoba, south to the central United States. It is even found on the west coast of the United States and down into the mountains of Arizona and New Mexico.

Climate, elevation

Valley bottoms to middle elevations (below 2500 m); Very adaptable to a wide range of soil and climatic conditions. Southern limits appear to be determined by high temperatures.

Local occurrence (where, how common)

Cornus stolonifera var. occidentalis is the form common to the Northwest. This is sometimes listed as Cornus occidentalis.

Habitat preferences

Moist, well-drained soils; Full sun to partial shade; Tolerates seasonal flooding; Found along stream banks and in open forested swamps; seems to prefer wetland margins where soils are nitrogen-rich, saturated, and shallowly inundated in the spring, and may be completely dry by late summer; Can live in upland open forests and rocky slopes.

Plant strategy type/successional stage (stress-tolerator, competitor, weedy/colonizer, seral, late successional)

An early to mid successional species that is surpressed in shade and is not normally found in the understory of closed canopy forests. It is found in the understory of mixed open forests; often one of the first shrubs to invade wet meadows.

Associated species

The plants most closely associated with red-osier dogwood

are willows and alders (Alnus spp.). Other plants frequently found with

red-osier dogwood include cottonwoods, aspen (Populus tremuloides),

birch (Betula spp.), Wood’s rose (Rosa woodsii), gooseberries (Ribes

spp.), hawthorne (Crataegus spp.), horsetails (Equisetum spp.), thistle

(Cirsium spp.), and Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis).

May be collected as: (seed, layered, divisions, etc.)

Easiest to propagate from cuttings, including live stakes. Can be propagated by seed and layering also, but cuttings are preferred.

Collection restrictions or guidelines

Cuttings taken in the spring (1 year old wood) should be collected and planted before buds start to open and will root readily, providing sufficient moisture is available; cuttings should be about 18 inches long and at least 3/8-inches in diameter at the small end. Seeds can be collected August to October.

Seed germination (needs dormancy breaking?)

Plant the whole berries (no need to clean them); some of the seeds will germinate soon after sowing, and the rest will germinate the following spring. Seeds have dormant embryos and need cold stratification for 1-3 months. Occasionally, hard seed coats require scarification.

Seed life (can be stored, short shelf-life, long shelf-life)

See below

Recommended seed storage conditions

Seed will remain viable in cold storage 4-8 years.

Propagation recommendations (plant seeds, vegetative parts, cuttings, etc.)

Hardwood cuttings are preferred. Can also be propagated by layering and grown from seed. Transplant seedlings or rooted cuttings before roots grow too large.

Soil or medium requirements (inoculum necessary?)

Cuttings root easily without treatment and can be directly planted providing sufficient moisture is available.

Installation form (form, potential for successful outcomes, cost)

Live stake cuttings are easiest to propagate and most successful.

Recommended planting density

8-10 ft. centers.

Care requirements after installed (water weekly, water once etc.)

Cuttings must be well-watered over the summer. Competing vegetation should be controlled until cuttings become established.

Normal rate of growth or spread; lifespan

Grows to 15-20 feet tall, spreading to 10 ft.

Sources cited


Data compiled by Mike Cooksey, 22 April 2003

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