You know them and you love them. With their flowers, foliage, and fall color, dogwoods bring year-round interest to the garden. Members of the genus Cornus, dogwoods are deciduous trees and shrubs known for their showy white and pink flowers. According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, “For many Southerners, there’s only one dogwood: flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), widely considered the region’s finest ornamental tree.” However, there are many types of dogwoods growing in the region and around the world. They’re trees and shrubs, bloomers and non-bloomers, and they appear in several species, selections, and forms. Learn more about the different types of dogwoods that can be grown in the South below.
We often recognize dogwoods by their showy flowers, but what we call “flowers” are actually bracts, or connected, modified leaves that resemble petals. As The Southern Living Garden Book describes, “Many types of dogwood exist, from good-sized, single-trunked trees to small, multi-stemmed, stoloniferous shrubs; there’s even a ground-covering perennial dogwood. Some are spectacular in bloom, others barely noticeable. Some sport dazzling fall foliage; others don’t.” Most all dogwoods thrive in full sun or partial shade with regular water. The most familiar dogwoods burst into bloom in early- to mid-spring. That’s followed by green foliage which, depending on the species and selection, turns to red or gold in fall.
Also known as Cornus florida, flowering dogwood is an undeniably popular dogwood species. It’s used in landscape design across the South and can be found growing wild too. It’s native to the U.S. and can be found as far south as Florida. It’s so popular that its blooms were named the state flowers of both North Carolina and Virginia. This dogwood can reach heights of 40 feet, but is most often seen at heights and widths of 20-30 feet. According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, this dogwood “Blooms profusely in midspring before leaves expand, almost covering itself with small flower clusters surrounded by four roundish, inch-wide bracts with notched tips. White is the usual color in the wild, but named selections also offer bracts in pink shades to nearly red.”
Types of Flowering Dogwoods
Selections of C. florida include ‘Appalachian Spring,’ which produces big white bracts in spring. ‘Cherokee Sunset’ has reddish flowers and variegated foliage which turns to purple in fall. ‘Royal Red’ produces big bracts in deep reddish hues. The leaves are red too, and they turn from red (when they appear) to green to, finally, red again (in fall).
According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, “Most dogwoods take full sun or light shade. They make excellent lawn, patio, or understory trees, and they’re not recommended for planting near pavement.” They thrive in full sun or partial shade, and they need moist, acid soil. Ideally, that soil should be well-drained and amended with plenty of organic matter to aid in draining and the movement of nutrients. Dogwoods need regular water, particularly in summer, when the heat can cause detrimental scorch to tender leaves. The Garden Book recommends pruning occasionally. The best time to do this is just after the tree blooms. Do it any later, and you may miss out on blooms and growth in the following year.
Kousa dogwood (C. kousa) is native to Japan and Korea and can thrive in the Middle and Lower South. It blooms later than other dogwood species, and it produces attractive foliage that turns yellow or crimson in autumn. Selections include ‘Autumn Rose,’ the foliage of which turns from light green in spring to pink in fall; ‘Heart Throb,’ which has big, long-lasting rose pink or dark reddish flowers; and ‘Wolf Eyes,’ which has grayish leaves and red fall foliage.
Pagoda dogwood (C. alternifolia) produces small spring flowers followed by dark fruit, and it’s known to grow 20 feet tall and wide. Cornelia cherry dogwood (C. mas) takes the form of a compact shrub and is an early bloomer with foliage that turns yellow in autumn. Rough-leaf dogwood (C. drummondii) is native to Southern states as far north as Virginia and as far west at Texas. It’s a small shrub that produces a show of short-lived flowers in early spring followed by white fruit, then vibrant red, orange, and purple foliage in autumn. Gray dogwood (C. racemosa) is native south to Georgia, grows up to 15 ft. high, and produces white blooms in the late spring months.
WATCH: Grumpy Gardener's Guide to Dogwoods
Is the dogwood one of your favorite flowering trees? What flowering trees do you have in your yard?