How to plant and care for a dogwood tree

If you’re looking for a tree with beautiful flowers, berries that attract birds, and a size that’s neither too big nor too small, then a dogwood may be just the tree for you. Of course, once you’ve decided to plant a dogwood, you’ll need to know how to take proper care of it. From choosing a planting site to making sure it has all the water and nutrients it needs to knowing how to protect it from pests and diseases, we’ve got you covered.

Picking a planting site

Dogwoods thrive in partial shade, especially in the afternoon when the sun is strongest. They will tolerate full sun, except in the hottest of climates, but too much sun tends to stress them. A stressed tree isn’t as healthy as an unstressed tree, so planting your dogwood in full sun can increase your tree’s chances of becoming sick, infected with fungus, or infested with pests. The ideal planting location for a dogwood gets plenty of morning sun but is shaded in the afternoon.

Plant your dogwood in rich, well-draining soil. They prefer soil that is slightly acidic, but will tolerate neutral soil as well. You can mix compost into the soil at your intended planting site to help with both the richness and the acidity of the soil. Add some pine needles or coffee grounds to your compost to boost the acidity of it.

Dogwood tree with pink flowers

Water

After planting your dogwood, be sure to give it a thorough watering. While your tree is establishing itself, it’s important to keep the soil evenly moist. Daily watering, in most climates, is sufficient for the first week or two of growth. Once the first few weeks have passed, you can switch to watering your tree once a week in mild climates or every few days in hotter climates. If your dogwood is in full sun, watering it more frequently can alleviate some of the stress.

To help conserve moisture, you can spread a thick layer of mulch around the base of your dogwood. Mulch is especially helpful in less mild climates, where water may evaporate or freeze more quickly. Any type of mulch will work, but be sure to keep the mulch away from the trunk. Mulch rubbing against the trunk of your dogwood, especially when it’s still young, can cause abrasions that leave your tree vulnerable.

Fertilizers

Dogwoods typically don’t need regular fertilizing, particularly during their first year of growth. If you do choose to fertilize your dogwood during the first year, be very sparing with it. It’s easy to over fertilize young dogwoods, which can weaken or even kill them. Once they’ve reached their second year, your dogwood tree might benefit from fertilizer. However, you may want to test your soil first, so you can avoid a build up of nutrients in your soil.

Compost is an excellent choice for boosting your soil with little to no risk of overloading your dogwood with excess nutrients. Compost is generally well balanced and has a little of everything your dogwood will need.

flowering dogwood branch

Pests and disease

Fungal infections are some of the most common problems found in dogwood trees. Fungi enjoy dark, wet, warm environments with poor air circulation. Since dogwoods enjoy partial shade and consistent moisture, this makes them a prime target, particularly during rainy spring months.

The most common fungal infections in dogwoods are:

  • Powdery mildew: a white film across leaves
  • Spot anthracrose: tan and purple spots most visible on the flowers, resembling coffee stains
  • Cercospora and septoria leaf spots: dark brown or black spots on leaves, resembling burn marks

Mild infections can typically be fought off by a healthy tree, but stressed trees or trees that are repeatedly infected are at risk of more serious damage. Prune away any infected limbs and clear the ground around the base of the tree of any leaves or mulch. Pruning some healthy limbs to thin the canopy of your dogwood can improve the airflow through the branches. In severe cases or repeated infections, use fungicide.

Several types of insects prefer dogwoods for shelter or food, including the dogwood borer and dogwood club-gall midge. However, insects pose little threat to healthy trees, except in the uncommon case of extreme infestations. The best way to protect your dogwood from pests is to keep your tree happy and healthy.

Now you know everything you need to plant and care for your dogwood tree. Plant it somewhere with afternoon shade, water it well, and keep an eye out for fungal infections. Everything else is up to you. You can plant a few shade-loving flowers underneath its branches, or put out some nice garden furniture in the shade it provides. Your local pollinators and birds will be sure to thank you.

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