Here in the Deep South, we can boast the flowering dogwood as one of our natives – one of our indigenous species that floats in lacey shifts beneath the dappled shade of pines. White, creamy white to purest white, dogwood blossoms dance along the tips of the pretty gray, square barked trees. Four distinct bracts open into a near perfect cross, complete with “nail” scars, for this tree is the traditional Christian legend of the Cross’ construction.
Truly a year round tree, this specimen can delight the garden and home landscape each season. In winter, the tight buds and distinctive bark provide handsome architecture to the winter landscape. Of course, the show stopping image is in spring, where the gorgeous and elegant buds open into bracts of a delicious white, dotted with chartreuse and yellow centers. After the show of spring, simple, opposite leaves – in a true green – gracefully hang on branches and stems until autumn, when they turn shades of red and even a smoky aubergine. The fruit, scarlet red ovules, contrast against the autumnal color scheme and hold into winter, providing a wintry tableau for fauna.
Now, I am asked quite often about planting dogwoods. They are so beautiful and make a gorgeous addition to any garden landscape, YET I don’t recommend transplanting Dogwoods from the woods…I leave the planting up to The Almighty! These plants truly bloom where they’re planted naturally, and the native dips and washes, understory bottoms, and acidic loamy spots are the perfect spots for Dogwoods. Enjoy them in their native habitat for best success. But if you are determined to plant one, be sure to select a balled and burlap tree grown from a reputable nursery, free of disease. Plant dogwoods in loamy and acidic soil, amended with organic material such as peat moss or soil conditioner. Not a fan of droughts, do be sure your trees receive a thorough drink once a week during the hottest, driest months.
There are, however, great species of the Cornus genus that I recommend for the home garden and landscape. One of those is the Kousa Dogwood. Another native, this species blooms later than the flowering tree and some varieties are evergreen. Often referred to as Chinese Dogwood, the Kousa Dogwood, and its cultivars, are quite successful within in the Deep South, especially since we share the same temperate and latitude zones as portions of China and Japan.
Requiring little pruning, only cut out dead branches or injured limbs from the tree. Of course, an elegant arrangement of dogwood branches is quite lovely this time of year. When cutting dogwoods for arranging, smash the ends of the stems with a hammer; thus allowing the fibers within the stem to soak up more readily the water. Hydraquick is a great product as well for arranging woody stem and other easily wilting stems. A few branches in a simple container make for a beautiful bouquet and will grace your tabletop for a few days.
When thinking of the perfect understory tree, the tree or shrub that grows satisfying well under the canopies of larger trees, the Dogwood is first in my mind. Each year I am astounded by their grace and shock of brilliant white throughout the woods and vales of my native land…the same native land that sustains marvelous other indigenous flora, but sustains my soul with the beauty of trees such as these.