Dogwoods- a Harbinger of Spring

Nothing says spring quite like a flowering dogwood! Native to the eastern United States, our flowering dogwood is beloved for its large, white or pink bracts (large, petal-like forms) that blanket the tree in a cloud of glorious color just before the leaves emerge. After the beautiful blossoms fade, this small- to medium-sized tree continues to be an asset in the landscape. The spreading, horizontal branching pattern helps to soften the sharp edges of homes and buildings. Fall brings bright, red fruit and showy, red leaves. It’s no wonder the dogwood has been adopted as the state tree in Virginia or that numerous cultivars have been developed by the nursery industry!

At Merrifield Garden Center, we carry more than 25 different types of dogwoods, including trees and shrubs. Each species offers its own special beauty in the garden.

Here are some varieties to consider:

Cherokee Series

Three of our most popular varieties belong to the Cherokee series. ‘Cherokee Princess’ features large, white blossoms and four-season interest. ‘Cherokee Brave’ and ‘Cherokee Chief’ each boast luxurious, pink flowers. There are even dogwoods in the Cherokee series with variegated leaves.

‘Kousa’

Another dogwood in high demand, ‘Kousa’ produces white or light pink blossoms in the spring, a red berry that wildlife finds hard to resist and a rich, red fall color. As the tree matures, the bark begins to exfoliate and becomes quite attractive. ‘Kousa,’ an Asian species, is more tolerant of hot, sunny locations than our native species, and is resistant to dogwood borers and dogwood anthracnose disease.

Pagoda

This native dogwood deserves greater attention as a landscape tree. The leaves of most dogwoods occur in pairs, with one leaf positioned opposite the other. But the leaves of Pagoda occur in an alternate pattern where each leaf is askew of the other. Pagoda dogwoods bloom in late May, with clusters of small, fragrant, white flowers positioned along distinctly horizontal branches. The flowers turn into a sumptuous feast of fruit that birds devour. In the fall, the leaves reveal a reddish, purple color. The flowers, fruit and fall color of Pagodas are more subtle than the flowering dogwood, but the overall effect is very elegant and works especially well in naturalized settings.

Other Varieties

During the 1970’s, Rutgers University bred Cornus florida, our native species, with Cornus kousa, an Asian species, resulting in the successful introduction of several vigorous, insect—and disease—resistant hybrid varieties, known as the “Stellar” series of dogwoods. ‘Aurora,’ ‘Celestial,’ ‘Constellation’ and ‘Stellar Pink’ are the most popular varieties of this series. Each features a slightly different flower form, which opens just after the native dogwoods.

Two newer introductions of the Rutgers Hybrid Dogwoods are ‘Venus’ and Starlight.’ With bracts that can exceed six inches in diameter, ‘Venus’ has the largest blooms of any dogwood. The white blooms are beautifully formed and long lasting. ‘Starlight’ is loaded with oversize white blooms. It can be used as a privacy screen with its dense branching habit or as a specimen with its showy blooms.

Not only are they beautiful, but dogwoods are easy-care landscape trees. They thrive in moist, well-drained soil. Try to plant dogwoods where they won’t be exposed to the sizzling afternoon sun or near larger trees which can provide some protection. Some varieties, such as ‘Venus’ and ‘Starlight,’ have been hybridized to succeed in full sun. With all dogwoods, heavy shade can result in few blossoms and slower growth.