How and Why to Grow Dogwood Trees

dogwood tree with flowers
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Homesteaders do not often focus the planting plan on any trees that do not produce food or firewood. Space if maximized to its best potential on homesteads both large and small.

At first glance, planting a tree that isn’t going to bear edible fruit or good firewood for the wood stove might seem like a waste of space.

But, planting dogwood trees in shady spots that may otherwise be underutilized can help attract small animals to the property.

Dogwood trees, in addition to being simply beautiful, attract small game in great abundance. Common wildlife such as squirrels, wild turkeys, raccoons, fox, and beaver are all drawn to the colorful and sweet berries that grow on the dogwood tree.

While attracting a nuisance predator like a fox onto your homestead is not ideal, if you live on a rural homestead like I do, odds are they are already lurking in your woods.

Since foxes are known to be drawn to dogwood trees, at least you will know where to hunt them, or set up traps if your chicken coop is suddenly light a few good laying hens.

If your family enjoys bird watching, especially during the early days of spring after a long winter, dogwood trees can be a welcomed addition to the homesteading landscape. The fruit and blossoms on the trees also attract cardinals, blue jays, and robins.

Some homesteaders and farmers intentionally cultivate dogwood trees in an area far away from the garden to help attract birds away from the growing crops.

Unfortunately deer are not attracted to dogwood tree berries, so you will still need a strong and sturdy fence to keep them out of the garden.

dogwood berries

Dogwood berries are largely ornamental as far as humans and domestic pets are concerned. While they are not toxic in nature, they often cause digestive system issues leading to sometimes intense vomiting and diarrhea when consumed in large quantities.

The bitter taste of the pretty berries usually deters people, cats, and dogs from even attempting to consume them in large quantities.

dogwood tree bark

Are Dogwood Trees or Shrubs?

Dogwoods are somewhat of a cross between a small tree and shrub or brush in size. Some varieties of flowering dogwood clearly resemble trees, but others look more like shrubs with multiple stems.

During the first few years some dogwood trees still often more closely resemble a shrub than a tree.

All dogwood trees grow blossoms with four large petals and have gray-ish bark and twisting branches, making them fairly easy to identify even when they are not blooming in the early spring or fall.

flower close-up

Some dogwood trees grow to reach heights of just 10 feet, others will range up to 30 feet in size. A hedgerow of dogwood tree shrubs can create an attractive living fence style visual barrier along the homestead’s property borders.

Because there are so many different sizes and shapes of dogwood trees, it is incredibly likely that even small space homesteaders can find one that will fit nicely into an underutilized shady spot on the property.

Dogwood Growing Zones

Dogwood trees do not thrive in regions with intense heat or chilling temperatures. The USDA recommends planting dogwood trees in growing zones 5 through 9.

Some dogwood varieties are cold hardy enough to grow down to USDA Growing Zone 3 – but may not reach its typical size in the chillier climate.

Planting Location

All dogwood tree varieties prefer to grow in shady areas, but are versatile enough to withstand a good measure of sun in most of its recommended growing zones. A short dogwood tree variety of shrub can thrive just fine when nestled amid taller trees.

Along the edge of the woods is where dogwood trees will most often grow. In such prime locations they can garner the benefit of morning sun, and not become vulnerable to the most intense sun of the day in hotter environments.

Some dogwood varieties thrive in full sun in zones 5 and 6 especially. Read the care sheet on the tree or shrub variety you purchase to better determine the perfect sun to shade mix for the new addition to the homestead.

Generally speaking, dogwood shrubs and trees thrive equally well in both dry and damp areas. You will often find dogwood trees growing in the wild along the edges of creeks and ponds.

While these hardy trees and shrubs can adapt efficiently to a variety of soil types (including ones composed of heavy clay or sand), they thrive best in a soil that is slightly acidic.

How to Plant a Dogwood Tree or Shrub

  1. After choosing a location, a hole must be dug that is double the width of the tree or shrub’s root ball.
  2. Once the hole is dug to the proper width, use the shovel to loosen the sides of the hole to rid the area of any rocks or hard clumps of soil.
  3. Use your hands to gently loosen the roots on the dogwood tree ball before easing the tree or shrub down into the soil.
  4. The tree should be standing erect and straight when adding a little bit of water slowly into the hole to give it a drink before piling dirt around it. You may need to hold onto the tree while pouring the water to avoid dislodging it from its proper position.
  5. Use the darkest dirt that came out of hole to put around the roots.
  6. Backfill the hole to the halfway point, and pat the dirt down so it is firmly surrounding the tree.
  7. Give the dogwood tree another small drink of water.
  8. Fill the rests of the hole to ground level with the dirt that came out of the hole.
  9. Pat the dirt so it is firmly down in the hole.
  10. Give the newly planted dogwood shrub or tree one final small drink of water.
dogwood among other trees
You can spot the dogwood tree after its bright white flowers.

Dogwood Care and Maintenance Tips

Spread a layer of mulch around the base of the new dogwood tree or shrub to help the distrubed soil retain its moisture. This will also help prevent weeds from taking root around the base of the tree right away.

If increasing the acidic level of the soil is necessary, add some peat moss into the planting hole and at the surface of the hole beneath the layer of mulch.

When the peat moss and the mulch begin to decay when exposed to the elements, the nutrients from both will infuse more acidity into the soil.

You should only need to water a dogwood tree or shrub if the homestead is experiencing a lengthy dry spell or drought.

We have dozens of dogwood trees on our property and even with two summers that brought mini-droughts, I never had to water them one time to keep them alive and healthy.

If watering a dogwood shrub or tree does become necessary, add about 6 to 8 inches of water depth onto the top soil after disturbing it slightly to make sure it sinks into the roots, and doesn’t merely add moisture to the hard ground on or near the surface.

The only time a dogwood tree would “need” to be pruned is if they are casting too much shade on other plants or you want to shape them decoratively. Fall is the best time to prune a dogwood tree or bush.

You should prune about five to six weeks before the late fall when leaves typically begin to fall off of trees in your region. Pruning at this stage in the season should allow the dogwood tree enough time to heal before entering a dormant stage for the winter.

During the fall especially, look for signs of fungus, diseased, or dead branches and remove them to prevent the damage from spreading to the remainder of the tree.

Always make any pruning or damage removal cuts at a 45 degree angle facing up and out to increase the chances of new and healthy growth later.

The leaves of a tree often tell the tale of the health of a tree. If the leaves on the dogwood tree turn brown, look “crispy,” and curl upwards, the tree has either been subjected to a hard freeze during the blossoming time of the year or is not getting enough water.

Should the leaves turn black or dark brown and have a droopy look, the tree is garnering too much water.

Dogwood Tree Pests

Dogwood Borers

These pests are purple or dark blue moths with clear wings that also boast white stripes. Should the dogwood borers find a tiny hole or crack in the tree, they will lay eggs inside. The larvae will dine upon the soft inner flesh of the tree after hatching.

To get rid of or prevent dogwood borers, keep the trunk and branches healthy using a natural pesticide recommended for this variety of tree and follow the quality growing tips noted above.

Neem oil usually works well to thwart dogwood borers, in my personal experience. The oil tastes nasty – it is quite bitter and most common garden pests do not want to smell or ingest it.

Spider Mites

Common garden pests like spider mites are also attracted to dogwood trees. They will create fine small webs along the leave and branches. Organic pesticides are recommended as part of the pest prevention and removal routine.

I often use diatomaceous earth (DE) to deter pests because it will attach to their bodies, and dehydrate them externally or internally if they consume it.

Scales

Scales will show up on both leaves and branches as miniscule little black bumps. Treating the tree with an organic pesticide or a mixture of 2 parts flour and 1 part standard table salt can help prevent scales (and other common pests) from taking over the dogwood tree, or even erradicate them.

Always apply the flour and salt mixture (which attaches to the bodies of pests and dehydrates them) during the early morning hours after the dew has dried to prevent the salt from scorching the tree during the heat of the day.

pink dogwood flowers
Dogwood trees come in a small variety of colors, with white and pink typically being the most common.

Top 5 Dogwood Tree Varieties

Flowering Dogwood

Trees or this type produce pink or white blossoms – and are the most common and popular in the United States. They grow to 15 to 30 feet tall on average.

They bloom in April and May. Varieties and cultivars of flowering dogwoods include: C. florida var. Rubra, C. florida var.. Rosea, and C. florida Cherokee Chief. Flowering dogwood trees offer pretty colors of deep green and shades of red in the fall.

Bunchberry Dogwood

This variety of dogwood is deemed to be a “subshrub” because it closely resembles a large shrub to a small tree.

It is a woody plant that only grows to 3 to 9 inches tall, on average. It dies back completely in the winter. In the fall the tree leaves turn a reddish purple.

Bunchberry dogwoods are very cold hardy, they thrive in cool soil. If you want a wildflower looking addition on the homestead that attracts songbirds and small game, the bunchberry might be a perfect choice for a shady small space shrub.

Yellow Twig Dogwood

The Cornus sericea has either yellow twigs and red stems, making it quite a deviation from the flowering dogwood tree variety. They also offer white blooms in the spring and are multi-stemmed.

This variety of dogwood tree is also shrub-like, and typically grows to heights of five to eight feet tall. Some popular varieties of yellow twig dogwood include Budd’s Yellow, Silver and Gold, and Flaverimea.

Kousa Dogwood

The Cornus Kousa looks fairly similar to the flowering dogwood tree variety. But, the leaves appear on the tree in the spring before the blossoms. Typically, a Kousa Dogwood tree does not flower until several weeks after the more popular variety of this genus.

In the fall, the fruit this dogwood tree variety produces resembles raspberries. Some folks eat them, but I never have and can not give advice on the safety nor the taste of the berries.

Kousa dogwood

The Kousa is generally considered the most hardy in growing zones four through eight. The most commonly cultivated types of Kousa Dogwood are the C. kousa and the C. Florida.

Cornelian Cherry Dogwood

The Cornus mas can be pruned to remain small, or let grow naturally to become one of the tallest varieties of dogwood trees.

It is most frequently grown in zones five through eight. It has the look of a tall multi-stemmed shrub even when allowed to grow to 20 feet tall – or taller.

It blooms very early as winter turns to spring, and createst beautiful yellow blossoms. The cherry-like fruit this variety of dogwood tree produces have been used to make jellies and preserves.

I have also never tasted the fruit of this dogwood tree and cannot attest to either the taste nor safety of consuming it.

Wrap-Up

There are 17 different varieties of dogwood trees that are native to North America. Each offers their own style of beauty, as well as pest resistance.

Some gardening experts caution against ever taking a start off of a wild dogwood tree and trying to cultivate it because they often tend to grow larger and their seed spreads more easily.

I have taken starts off of our dogwood trees once they done with early flowering (mid June to July) or in the fall and given them to homesteading friends who also want dogwood trees on their land – but do not want to pay a bundle at a garden center to get a “grove” of them going.

I can report only successful results and pleased pals. But, the trees did spread greatly on their large homesteads – which was the overall goal.

If you are a small space homesteader, it is likely wise to purchase a more “domesticated” dogwood tree so it doesn’t take more space on your land than it is welcome to consume.

dogwood trees pinterest


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Tara Dodrill
About Tara Dodrill 192 Articles
Tara lives on a 56 acres farm in the Appalachian Mountains, where she faces homesteading and farming challenges every single day. her homesteading skills are unmatched, she raises chickens, goats, horses, a wide variety of vegetables, not to mention she's an expert is all sorts of homesteading skills such as hide tanning, doll making, tree tapping and many, many more.

2 Comments

  1. Just a warning. Dogwood is so named due to the smell of the flowers. From personal experience, they smell like dog excrement… Pretty, yes, but…

  2. I heard a long time ago that the dogwood tree was used to construct the cross that Jesus Christ was crucified on.
    As curse, the tree would never produce wood strong enough to hold a man’s weight again and the four petal flower has a blood stain at each end.

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