How to Grow and Care for Pagoda Dogwood

Pagoda dogwood tree branches with ribbed leaves and yellowish-white flattened flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

When you're seeking a plant for shady areas, consider one of the excellent cultivars of pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia). This large shrub or medium tree grows to 15 to 25 feet tall and produces yellowish-white flowers in flattened clumps in late spring. Bluish-black berries follow the flowers to provide winter interest. Both new leaves and fall foliage tend to take on reddish-purple, reddish-orange, or coppery coloration that is quite different from the color the plant has for the rest of the growing season. Pagoda dogwood makes an excellent specimen plant for a woodland garden. It should be planted during dormancy in the early spring or late fall.

Common Names Pagoda dogwood, alternate-leaved dogwood, green osier
Botanical Name Cornus alternifolia
Family Cornaceae
Plant Type Shrub
Mature Size 15-25 ft. tall, 12-32 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Loamy, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic
Bloom Time Spring
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 has a fast growth rate of up to 2 feet per year.

Pagoda dogwood does not require much maintenance other than working compost into the soil for fertilization, with also helps the soil retain water. Also apply a wide circle of mulch around the shrub, both to retain soil moisture and to prevent you from getting too close when mowing and damaging the trunks, which can lead to insect damage.

Pagoda dogwood tree with tiered branches and white flower clumps

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Pagoda dogwood tree branch with ribbed leaves and flower buds

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Pagoda dogwood tree branch with flat flower clump closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Pagoda dogwood tree with sprawling branches

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

Pagoda dogwood generally prefers dappled shade conditions that mimic the understory conditions under large trees. In warmer regions, it appreciates more shade; in colder regions, more sun may be preferable.

Soil

This tree likes loamy soil that is relatively moist but well-drained. It prefers an acidic pH.

Water

Pagoda dogwood should be watered weekly when there is no rain; it requires about 1 inch of soil 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 make sure the soil is mulched to keep it cool.

Fertilizer

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

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

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 taking stem cuttings and rooting them. Note, however, that propagating the popular cultivar 'Golden Shadows' by any method is prohibited because it is trademarked.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Place the cutting and pot inside a large plastic bag and seal, making sure 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.
  4. Remove the plastic bag once roots have developed and place the pot in a sunny window and keep it moist. Fertilize every two weeks with diluted liquid fertilizer until the plant is growing well.
  5. 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 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.

  1. 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.
  2. Mulch and mark the location well.
  3. The seeds need two to three month 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.
  4. 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 has to be kept cool, which is very difficult to do for a container plant during the summer.

Overwintering

As a native plant, pagoda dogwood is well adapted to the conditions in its climate range and does not need any overwintering protection.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Dogwoods are prone to leaf spot, twig and leaf blights, root rot, and canker. Occasional insect pests include scale, leaf miner, and borers. Dogwoods are most susceptible to insect infestation when the lower trunks get wounded by lawn mowers or weed trimmers, so take care to 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 it's 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.

Common Problems With Pagoda Dogwood

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.

FAQ
  • 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 neither.

  • 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, just remove them.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cornus alternifolia. University of Florida.

  2. Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance. Rutgers The State University of New Jersey.

  3. Nonpoisonous Berries. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.