How to Grow Silky Dogwood

Silky dogwood shrub with dense thickets of large leaves and white flower clusters

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) is a small deciduous shrub found in wild, wet areas in the eastern United States. The shrub grows unruly and forms dense thickets when left on its own and really should be used in informal gardens when a manicured look is not needed.  

Do not be fooled by its smooth, silky name, which it gets from the hairs on its leaves’ underside; this tree is a little rough around the edges. It takes a fair bit of management to keep it looking neat. 

However, if there is a wet or shady spot in a landscape project in your near future, Cornus amomum has lots of benefits.

The shrub is often used as an effective method to deal with stabilizing slopes and streambank erosion. Combining the silky dogwood with other plants, such as willows, as a canopy alongside grasses at ground level can help manage erosion nicely.

Another beneficial reason to plant silky dogwood is that it is a favorite of pollinators and wildlife. If you are looking to add more butterflies to a landscape, the tree is the host plant for the North American native Azure Butterfly. It's also host to three different specialist bee species. Due to environmental concerns, more and more specialist bee species are becoming threatened, so the more hosts we can provide, the better.

Of course, where there are bees and butterflies, there are birds. The silky dogwood produces plentiful blue drupes that attract numerous bird species like the Downy Woodpecker, Thrushes, Northern Flicker, and Northern Cardinal. If you allow the shrub to form a thicket, it will also make a nice nesting area and provide an excellent place for small mammals to shelter.  

The tree is utilitarian, yes, but one of the silky dogwood’s niches is its ornamental uses. While its summer foliage is not entirely impressive, the spring flowers, fall color, and exciting winter bark and twigs make this small tree attractive throughout the year. It can be used in a cottage-style garden where an informal or natural look is sought.

Another creative use for the species is as an accent shrub in a rain garden, where it provides ecological utility and three-season interest.

Some plants are pure show, some plants are pure workhorses and not very nice to look at, and then there are plants like the silky dogwood that can do it all.    

Botanical Name  Cornus amomum
Common Name  Silky Dogwood
Plant Type   Deciduous shrub
Mature Size   6 to 12 feet tall,  6 to 12 feet wide.
Sun Exposure  Part Shade , Shade
Soil Type  Loamy,  Moist , Wet
Soil pH  5-7
Bloom Time  March, April
Flower Color  White
Hardiness Zones  5-8
Native Area   Eastern North America

Silky Dogwood Care

Growing a silky dogwood will take some maintenance to prevent it becoming too unruly. Proactively cutting suckers, trimming back unwanted growth, and removing dead and damaged branches are recommended. If a formal look is desired, the tree does take to pruning.

However, other species are much more suited for formal landscape use. A sweet bay magnolia, for example, is a fine native substitute that thrives in the same conditions. 

Silky dogwood shrub with dense branches of large leaves and white flower clusters

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Silky dogwood shrub with large leaves and small white flower clusters on branches

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Silky dogwood shrub branch with large leaves and cluster of small white flowers closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Silky dogwood shrub with small white flower clusters surrounded by large leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

The silky dogwood will do best in part sun, although it will tolerate full shade and full sun. You will need to ensure it has plenty of water and that the soil remains wet in full sun positions.

Soil

Growing the shrub in slightly acidic soil that is medium to wet, well-drained, and rich in organics will help it to thrive and have prolific blooms, fruit, and color.

Water

Watering a young plant that is not established is essential. Newly planted shrubs should be watered weekly for the first year until they have established their roots. Once established, unless there is a drought or it is in a full sun position, the silky dogwood does not require any extra water besides what is provided by nature.  

Temperature and Humidity

Silky dogwoods are found in USDA Zones 5-8 and are frost hardy. 

Fertilizer

There is no need to fertilize the silky dogwood. It will grow and spread well on most soils. If the soil is tested for pH and it is high, an amendment can be added to increase the acidity. However, because of its use as a food source for pollinators fertilizers and amendments are not recommended.

Propagating Silky Dogwood

A grove can be established if planted in a group to form thickets through rooting. A simple propagation method calls for a stem to be left in contact with the soil and covered or compressed. A rock on a stem would work. After a few months, the stem will have taken root and a thicket formed.