When you're seeking a plant for shady areas, consider pagoda dogwood. This large shrub or medium tree grows to 15 to 25 feet tall producing yellowish-white flowers in flattened clumps in late spring. Bluish-black berries follow the flowers to provide winter interest. New leaves and fall foliage have a reddish-purple or reddish-coppery coloration that is green for the rest of the growing season. It's called a pagoda for its tiered, horizontal branching. Pagoda dogwood grows best in woodland, understory conditions and partial or dappled sunlight, loamy, acidic soil, and cool summer temperatures.
|Characteristics and Growing Conditions|
|Common Names||Pagoda dogwood, alternate-leaved dogwood, green osier|
|Botanical Name||Cornus alternifolia|
|Mature Size||15-25 ft. tall, 12-32 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Loamy, well-drained|
|Flower Color||Yellow, white|
|Hardiness Zones||3-7 (USDA)|
|Native Area||North America|
Pagoda Dogwood Care
For best performance, plant pagoda dogwood in moderately moist but well-drained loam that has an acidic soil pH. The plant will also tolerate clay soil but will grow more slowly. This species is an understory tree in its native range, so dappled shade is its preference. This dogwood starts growing slowly, but as its roots establish, it develops a fast growth rate of up to 2 feet per year, with a lifespan of up to 100 to 200 years in the best conditions.
Here are the other main care requirements for growing a pagoda dogwood:
- Incorporate compost in the soil to help the soil retain water.
- Apply mulch around the shrub to help retain water and give the trunk a buffer from lawnmowers that can injure the trunk.
- Plant it during dormancy in the early spring or late fall.
- Site it in partial sun or a shadier spot.
- Requires 1 inch of water per week.
Pagoda dogwood generally prefers dappled shade conditions that mimic the understory conditions under large trees. It appreciates more shade; in colder regions, more sun may be preferable.
This tree likes loamy soil that is relatively moist but well-drained. It prefers an acidic pH.
Pagoda dogwood should be watered weekly when there is no rain; it requires about 1 inch of water per week.
Temperature and Humidity
This plant likes moderately cool summer temperatures and humidity levels. In hot climates, you may need to provide shade and ensure the soil is mulched to keep it cool.
Pagoda dogwood does not require feeding; mulching over the root zone provides sufficient nutrients. Or, compost can be worked into the top few inches of soil beneath the tree each spring.
Types of Pagoda Dogwood
The pagoda dogwood's natural habitat is the understory of cool, moist woodlands near ravines, stream banks, and bordering swamps from New Brunswick to Minnesota in the North, to northern Georgia and Alabama in the South.
In addition to the straight species (the plant as you would find it in the wild), there are two cultivars of pagoda dogwood:
- C. alternifolia 'Golden Shadows' is a trademarked cultivar with green and gold variegated leaves. It grows 10 to 12 feet tall with a similar spread.
- C. alternifolia 'Argentea' is known as silver pagoda dogwood. It is also variegated but with white leaf margins that give a silvery effect. It grows 12 to 15 feet wide with a spread of 10 to 20 feet.
Pruning is optional, but if you do prune (some people may wish to trim a little here and a little there to modify the shape slightly), do your pruning in late winter.
Propagating Pagoda Dogwood
Like other dogwood species, pagoda dogwood is best propagated by rooting stem cuttings. Note, however, that propagating the popular cultivar 'Golden Shadows' by any method is prohibited because it is trademarked.
- Cut a 6-inch length of stem from the tip of a branch. Make sure there are 4 to 6 leaves. Pinch off the bottom pair of leaves from the stem, leaving wounds in the stem.
- Fill a small pot with rooting medium—either a commercial mixture or a make-your-own mixture of sand and perlite. Moisten the rooting medium with water. Dip the bottom 1 1/2 inch of the stem into rooting hormone. Bury the bottom of the cutting 1 1/2 inch deep in the rooting medium and pack the medium tightly around the stem.
- Place the cutting and pot inside a large plastic bag and seal, ensuring the leaves don't touch the bag. Check the cutting once a week to see if it has developed roots. Either look at the bottom of the pot to see if roots are coming through or give the stem a gentle tug to see if it is anchored.
- Remove the plastic bag once roots have developed, place the pot in a sunny window, and keep it moist. Fertilize with a diluted liquid fertilizer every two weeks until the plant grows well.
- When the cutting outgrows its pot, move it into a larger pot filled with regular potting soil. Well-established new plants can be transferred to the landscape in the fall.
How to Grow Pagoda Dogwood From Seed
If you want to collect seeds from a pagoda dogwood for propagation, make sure it is the straight species. Variegated cultivars cannot be reproduced true to type from seed.
- In the fall, collect the seeds and sow them 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep in a prepared outdoor bed with natural soil. Choose a location where the seedlings will get partial shade during the summer, especially during the hot afternoon hours.
- Mulch and mark the location well.
- The seeds need two to three months of cold stratification at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by temperatures between 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit at which the seeds germinate. Overall, it takes 13 to 14 weeks for the seeds to germinate.
- Once the seedlings emerge in the spring, water them if it does not rain and keep the bed weed-free. Let the seedlings grow for at least another season before transplanting them.
Potting and Repotting Pagoda Dogwood
Pagoda dogwood is not a good choice for container growing. In addition to its considerable height and spread, its fibrous, spreading root system needs space. The root zone must be kept cool, which is very difficult for a container plant during the summer.
As a native plant, pagoda dogwood is well adapted to the cold hardiness conditions in its climate range and does not need overwintering protection. It is the hardiest of the dogwood trees, growing well in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 7.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Dogwoods are prone to leaf spot, twig and leaf blights, root rot, and canker. Occasional insect pests include scale, leaf miners, and borers. Dogwoods are most susceptible to insect infestation when the lower trunks get wounded by lawnmowers or weed trimmers, so avoid damaging the bark.
How to Get Pagoda Dogwood to Bloom
A lack of flowers, or poor flowering, might be due to excess nitrogen (often the cause when planted in the center of a lawn). Other causes can be lack of water, or just the opposite, poor drainage if it is planted in the wrong type of soil. The latter can be corrected by working organic matter into the soil to improve drainage. Pagoda dogwoods do not bloom again after their late spring bloom until the following season; there is no need to deadhead the spent blooms.
Pagoda dogwood blooms in May and June, producing fruits in July and August.
How Long Does Pagoda Dogwood Stay in Bloom?
Pagoda dogwoods blooms last about three to four weeks.
What Do Pagoda Dogwood Flowers Look and Smell Like?
Pagoda dogwood has fragrant convex clusters of miniature yellowish-white flowers that bloom at the branch tips. They smell a lot like honeysuckle.
Common Problems With Pagoda Dogwood
Pagoda dogwoods are relatively easy to care for if their growing conditions are met, such as filtered sunlight and cool, moist, well-draining soil. However, they are susceptible to animal damage, some pests, and other issues when conditions are neglected.
Various types of birds eat the berries of pagoda dogwood (including the ruffed grouse), as does the black bear. This appeal to wildlife also extends to deer and rabbits, which can badly damage the bark and branches of dogwood. Young trees are especially susceptible and may need to be protected with fences if rabbits or deer are a problem.
Yellowing Branches or Trunk
Golden canker is a disease spread by a fungus that looks like yellow blisters on the surface of branches, stems, and sometimes the tree trunk. Golden canker does not affect the roots of the tree. However, if it spreads to the main trunk, it will kill everything above the point of infection. It's only a matter of time before the entire tree dies.
The fungus turns the infected areas bright yellow, orange, or tan and kills the leaves along that branch or stem. Prune away the discolored parts to stop the fungus from spreading; pruning is best done when the tree is dormant in the cold weather months. Sterilize the pruning shears between each cut. Destroy the diseased branches.
If you notice browning leaves and you don't notice golden canker yellowing, it could be leaf scorch if the browning is happening during hot weather. Heat causes dogwood leaves to turn brown along the edges and between the veins. Other heat or water stress signs include drooping, reddening, and curling leaves. Give more water during periods of high heat.
Where does the name pagoda dogwood come from?
The plant's common name derives from the tiered, pagoda-like shape of the growth habit, and the Latin species name "alternifolia" derives from the alternate position of the leaves on the stems.
Are the berries of dogwood trees toxic?
The berries are not toxic but they aren't edible either.
Does pagoda dogwood reseed itself?
It may reseed itself. In the wild, pagoda dogwood forms small colonies. If you don't want the volunteer seedlings, remove them.
What is the best use for the pagoda dogwood tree?
Pagoda dogwood makes an excellent specimen plant for a woodland garden and is a pleasant addition to landscaping, particularly in a shadier spot.
Cornus alternifolia. Boone County Arboretum.
Cornus alternifolia. University of Florida.
Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance. Rutgers The State University of New Jersey.
Nonpoisonous Berries. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.