The last dogwood blooms

Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa) is the latest of the dogwoods to flower in my garden. The dogwood season began this year as the native dogwood (Cornus florida) began to bloom the last week of March, two to three weeks earlier than is typical.

Hybrid dogwoods introduced by Rutgers University that combine the native American and Chinese dogwoods, and Chinese and Pacific coast dogwoods (Cornus nutalli), usually flower in early May, just after the natives fade, but this year they were fully in bloom by mid April. Fortunately, the temperatures in late April were cool, so the flowers persisted an additional week into May (‘Venus’ dogwood, below).

There are many selections of Chinese dogwoods, and most are more low branched and shrubby than the native American dogwood. The Chinese dogwood is notable for large white flowers (bracts) that will often nearly obscure the tree’s foliage for several weeks in late spring. Foliage is variable between selections (some leaves are more rounded, others not), but it is often glossier than the eastern American dogwood, and more resistant to foliar diseases. The Chinese dogwood is also highly resistant to other diseases that afflict the native, and it is rarely bothered by insects or other pests.

Most Chinese dogwoods have green leaves and white flowers, and there is a range of forms from low growing, shrub-like trees to others that are quite upright in habit. The popular selection ‘Milky Way’ is often wider than it is tall, while ‘Galilean’ (above) displays a classic tree form with a central trunk and it is much taller than wide.

‘Satomi’ Chinese dogwood (above) is a wide spreading tree with glossy, rounded foliage that often turns remarkable shades of red and orange in autumn (below). It’s flowers are pink, though in my Virginia garden they are usually almost white with a blush of pink. In mid June I see ‘Satomi’ in western Oregon in cooler temperatures and lower humidity, and the blooms are much pinker, so I suppose that the warmer, more humid Virginia spring is responsible for the color difference.

I have two variegated leaf Chinese dogwoods in the garden, the wide spreading ‘Wolf Eye’ (below) and the more upright growing ‘Samaritan’. The foliage of ‘Wolf Eye’ curls so that it is not as attractive as the flatter leaves of ‘Samaritan’. Unfortunately, I’ve planted ‘Samaritan’ in a bit too much shade so that it rarely flowers, though the foliage grows splendidly. Most years ‘Wolf Eye’ blooms nicely, though this year the flowers are more sparse than usual.

The Chinese dogwood is a wonderful tree, not better than the native American, or the hybrids. Each has its unique attributes, and distinct season to flower. I have several of each, and to my thinking planting one or two of each is preferable to choosing between exceptional trees

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Monique Deslauriers says:

    I have a big problem this year and last year…I had only 2 flowers in the whole tree…to bad…the leaves are in good shape…I give my tree foods…but still no flowers…what would be the problem
    thank you for answer me.

    1. Dave says:

      Dogwoods that are regularly fertilized will often grow plenty of lush foliage, but flowers will be limited. In deep shade dogwoods form fewer flower buds, but I’d try to cut out the fertilizer to see if that makes a difference. Unless trees are growing in nutrient poor sandy soils it’s rarely necessary to fertilize. I fertilized plants in my garden in the early years when I was impatient for them to grow quickly, but I’ve not applied any fertilizer for fifteen years. Trees, shrubs, and perennials grow and flower splendidly in the native clay soil.

      1. Monique Deslauriers says:

        Thank you Dave for your advice,

        I will stop the fertilizer, but this year, I did it at springtime only,
        I won’t reproduce that next year… and also
        by cutting some branches at the bottom of the tree very near the soil…would help ???
        and…do you thing that..this kind of tree needs another one like him…. near by to produce flowers…
        ( like the peartree…needs another pear tree near by..etc…to be feconded…)?
        it’s the second year of NO FLOWERS…when I bought it in 2010
        it was full of white flowers…until september…I was soo glad…
        and since then….NOTHING….last year 1 flower….this year 2 flowers…
        i am really desapointed and above all…the tree is just facing my
        patio doors….with …no flower….and that kind of foliage looks
        like a vulgar bush tree…I paid $300. for that…snif snif !!!
        I buy it at Botanix Faucher in La Prairie, Quebec.
        »tomorrow I will make a visit there.
        Do you think that the one with pink flowers is hard to transplant
        here in our region.?
        thank you again Dave .

      2. Dave says:

        Dogwoods do not need a pollinator to flower, so a second tree is not necessary. I don’t know if your tree is the native American dogwood or Chinese dogwood, but it’s also possible that cold could damage the flower buds. The native dogwood is cold hardy to about -20F and the Chinese dogwood to -30F, maybe even another 10 degrees colder. If your winter temperatures approach this cold the flower buds can be damaged, in particular if they’re also exposed to drying winds. The pink selections of either of these dogwoods are equally cold hardy to the white flowered varieties, and are no more difficult to transplant.

      3. Monique Deslauriers says:

        Thank you for these information…hoping next year will be better…
        I appreciate your answer.

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