How to Grow and Care for Gray Dogwood

An Adaptable Native Shrub That Should Be Allowed to Grow Freely

Gray dogwood native shrub with small creamy white flower clusters on branch

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Dogwoods are either trees or shrubs. Gray dogwood is a native shrub. Although many dogwoods, even native species, are often affected by many pests and diseases, this is not the case with the gray dogwood. It’s a healthy variety that resists the diseases common to many dogwoods. The gray dogwood’s numerous small, creamy white flowers are less showy than the ones of the flowering dogwood, but it compensates by being relatively disease-free and highly adaptable to many difficult conditions, such as dry, wet, or poor soil.

If you are looking for a low-maintenance shrub in a non-formal landscape, gray dogwood is a good choice. It will also make the birds happy—almost 100 species of birds eat the berries, and use it for shelter and nesting. However, bear in mind that gray dogwood needs space to spread in every direction. It sends out rapidly growing suckers from the original plant so it should be planted in a naturalized setting where it is allowed to form colonies. It is excellent for screening or planted along ponds and embankments, where it provides erosion control.

Common Name Grey dogwood, Panicled dogwood
Botanical Name Cornus racemosa
Family Cornaceae
Plant Type Shrub
Mature Size 10-15 ft. high, 10-15 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Sandy, Silt, Clay, Loamy
Soil pH Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 4-8 (USDA)
Native Area Eastern North America

Gray Dogwood Care

Gray dogwood should be planted in a location where it can grow freely. To keep it under control in a formal garden setting requires regular pruning. Gray dogwood should be planted as a dormant plant in the early spring, before May. Fall planting is not recommended because the seedlings have a much lower rate of survival.

Gray dogwood native shrub with extending branches

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Gray dogwood native shrub with multi-stemmed branches with flower buds in sunlight

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Gray dogwood branch with bright green leaves and buds closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Gray dogwood native shrub with extending branches and small white flower clusters

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Berries of the grey dogwood (Cornus racemosa)
Berries of the grey dogwood (Cornus racemosa) Evergreen Planet / Getty Images


Gray dogwood grows in a wide range of light conditions. Full sun or partial sun is best, however it also tolerates shady locations with four hours or less of sunlight.


Consistently moist, well-drained soil is ideal but gray dogwood stands out by its adaptability to any type of soil, dry or wet, clay or alkaline, even problematic soil such as compacted or poor soil.


Watering is only required after planting in the absence of rain until the shrub is established. Gray dogwood has a wide range of moisture tolerance. It can grow both in wet or occasionally saturated soil, and can withstand even extended periods of dryness. 

Red fruit stalks remain on the shrub until late fall or early winter
Grey dogwood has attractive red fruit stalks Cavan Images / Getty Images

Temperature and Humidity

As a native plant from as far north as Maine to as far south as Georgia, gray dogwood is well adapted to both subzero winters and hot, humid summers.


If grown in humus-rich soil with plenty of organic matter, there is no need to fertilize—in fact, over-fertilizing can damage the dogwood. If the soil lacks nutrients (do a soil test to know exactly what it needs), fertilize it in the spring with a granular slow-release fertilizer high in nitrogen, such as a 16-4-8 general-purpose fertilizer, following the directions for amounts on the fertilizer bag.

Also fertilize the area around the shrub, about 1.5 times the diameter of the branch spread. If the shrub has a spread of four feet, you should broadcast the fertilizer in a band at least six feet around. This will encourage the gray dogwood with its spreading habit to send out more suckers.

Types of Gray Dogwood

While gray dogwood is usually grown as a multi-stemmed shrub, sometimes tree forms with one to several trunks are also available. These do not grow suckers from the base.


In a suitable location, there is very little maintenance, except perhaps an occasional pruning to shape and give it direction. The shrub itself has a medium growth rate but the suckers that grow profusely from its multi-stemmed base grow fast, three to five feet during the growing season.

As it ages, the shrub can become a bit leggy. At that point, you can rejuvenate it by completely cutting it down to the ground, leaving just a few inches. It will take a couple of years for the shrub to regrow to its original height. It will be fuller, and it will also develop more suckers as a result of the pruning.

Propagating Gray Dogwood

It is possible to propagate gray dogwood to create new plants. It is best to do so in the early spring; fall planting is not recommended. Gray dogwood can be propagated through cuttings. Here's how:

  1. Gather some sharp scissors.
  2. Cut at the bottom of the branch and remove any lower leaves.
  3. Plant the new cutting in soil.
  4. Make sure the cuttings stay in moist soil and out of the direct sun until they take root in 4-6 weeks.

How to Grow Gray Dogwood From Seed

Gray dogwood can be grown from seed in early spring.

  1. Gather your seeds and place in a plastic ziplock bag (poke some holes in it for airflow) with moist peat moss.
  2. Leave at room temperature for 105 days.
  3. Place seeds in a refrigerator another 105 days. The seeds are then ready to be planted outside.
  4. Cover with a thin layer of soil in a planting bed and water regularly. Let the soil dry out between waterings.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Unlike other dogwoods, gray dogwood has few disease or pest problems. It is sometimes affected by leaf spot, which can appear as white or gray powder-like spots on leaves. Fungicide sprays can help treat and prevent leaf spot.

How to Get Gray Dogwood to Bloom

The bloom of the gray dogwood in May or June is relatively short, about seven to ten days. In August or September, the shrub produces white berries with a bluish tint. Chances are you won’t even notice them because birds voraciously eat them in no time.

It is not until after the berries are gone that the gray dogwood displays its most attractive feature: the red fruit stalks called pedicels which remain on the shrub until late fall or early winter. Deadheading is not necessary as the flowers give way to fruit. The one- and two-year-old stems of the gray dogwood are reddish brown. In the third year, their color changes to gray.

  • How long do gray dogwood live?

    Under the right growing conditions, a dogwood tree can last decades.

  • Is gray dogwood easy to care for?

    These are very easy-going plants with little known issues/pests.

  • Where should I place gray dogwood?

    While gray dogwood adapts to almost any light or soil condition, it should be planted in a naturalized setting where it can form colonies.