If you live in the Southeast, you probably remember all the "dogwood trails" that people followed when our native flowering dogwoods bloomed each spring. Thirty years ago, dogwood was the #1 flowering tree. Sadly, no longer. The trails have steadily eroded until now we see only remnants. Where have all the dogwoods gone?
Answer: To that old compost pile in the sky. Dogwoods aren't terribly long-lived as trees go. No dogwoods living today saw the Pharaoh build the Great Pyramid. But that's not why you see only an occasional dogwood nowadays. It's because when a dogwood died, folks replaced it with a tree they thought was easier. The crepe myrtle.
Think about it. Today, in many neighborhoods, you can scarcely pass by a single house that doesn't have a crepe myrtle. And it's easy to understand why. They bloom for a long time, offer many different colors, boast handsome bark if you don't murder them, and tolerate drought and most soils. Plain and simple -- they're easier to grow than dogwoods.
Don't Give Up On Dogwood But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try dogwoods. In Grumpy's opinion, flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) still remains the best small tree for multi-season interest. Not just in the Southeast, either -- for the Northeast and Midwest too. Showy blossoms of white, pink, or red appear in spring before the leaves. Here's the common white shown off in a pretty vase below.
And here's a red one named 'Cherokee Brave' that's planted in Grumpy's front yard.
Dogwood is also one of the first trees to change color in fall. The leaves may turn scarlet like these below, but crimson or burgundy-red is more the norm.
After the leaves drop, bright red fruits are revealed that persist all fall and winter -- until they're gobbled by robins, cedar waxwings, and mockingbirds.
What A Dogwood Needs Contrary to popular belief, flowering dogwood grows just fine in full to partial sun. It'll grow well in shade too, but it won't bloom. The trick to growing it in full sun is giving loose, acid, fertile, moist soil -- no rocks or clay -- and extra water during hot, dry stretches. Soak the roots with a hose; don't rely on lawn sprinklers. If you let the tree wilt, the leaves will scorch badly (brown and curl on the edges) and may not set flower buds. Also spread a generous layer of mulch under the tree (but don't pile it up against the trunk) to cool the roots and keep the soil moist.
Why plant in sun in the first place? Because a happy tree in sun sets many more flowers.
Recommended Selections When you visit the garden center, always buy container-grown trees that are named selections. These offer a guaranteed flower color, heavier and earlier blooming, and disease-resistance. Don't settle for cheaper seed-grown trees simply labeled "white" or "pink." Seed-grown trees may be gems or dogs -- there's no way to tell when you buy.
Here are some of Grumpy's top picks.
'Appalachian Spring' and 'Appalachian Joy.' Large, white blooms. Fast growers. Disease resistant.
'Cherokee Brave.' Red blooms with white centers. Fast grower. Disease resistant.
'Cherokee Chief.' Red blooms, excellent performer, disease resistant.
'Cloud 9.' Showy white flowers. Blooms very young.
'Pluribracteata.' Double white blooms. Disease resistant.
'Weaver's White.' Large, white blooms. Disease resistant.