Pink Dogwood Plant Profile

How to Grow Cornus Florida

Pink flowering dogwood tree branch with blooms.

Danita Delimont/Getty Images

The pink dogwood is notable for the many pastel flowers that it produces each spring for about two to four weeks. Like other dogwoods, the pink varieties are very good landscape trees for the rest of the year, too, with green foliage that turns purplish in fall, and reddish berries that draw butterflies and birds. 

Aptly named, "flowering dogwood" puts on a terrific floral performance in the spring (although what appear to be four flower petals are actually bracts—modified leaf structures). The blooms are preceded by pincushion-shaped buds, which open into flowers well before the leaves arrive, so their beauty can be readily appreciated. The bloom color of the rubra variety starts out reddish before morphing to pink.

The scaly bark is relatively distinctive and can be used along with the branching pattern to identify the genus even when no leaves, blooms, or berries are present.

Botanical Name Cornus florida var. rubra
Common Name Pink dogwood, pink flowering dogwood
Plant Type Broadleafdeciduous tree
Mature Size 15 to 30 feet tall, with a similar or somewhat greater spread
Sun Exposure Partial shade
Soil Type Well-drained, kept evenly moist, and of average fertility
Soil pH Acidic
Bloom Time April or May
Flower Color Pink
Hardiness Zones 5 to 9
Native Area Eastern North America

How to Grow Pink Dogwood Trees

Plant pink dogwood trees in well-drained, acidic soil. They are not heavy feeders, but you can improve performance by furnishing at least moderately fertile ground for them.

Since Cornus florida is an understory tree in the wild, it is best to grow it in partial shade in the landscape (particularly in hot climates). But some homeowners do grow pink dogwood trees in full sun (especially in the North), and this can work as long as you supply the plants with enough water. Applying a few inches of mulch during the hottest part of summer will help protect the tree's root system and help the soil retain water. 

The next feature to anticipate after blooming is over is the berries (drupes, technically), which begin to ripen to a red color in late summer. The berries are smooth, in contrast to those on the Japanese types, which resemble raspberries. The fall foliage color is reddish-bronze to purple, meaning the trees will attract considerable interest in autumn (especially since the berry display adds to the foliage display). In winter their horizontal branching scheme takes center stage and is more easily appreciated (because there are no leaves left to hide it). 

Since flowering dogwood is valued for its horizontal branching patterns, take care to prune away storm-damaged limbs that would mar the plant's appearance. Careful pruning can help return a storm-damaged tree to its attractive shape. Beyond this, little pruning should be necessary. Dead branches can be pruned off at any time. If you notice limbs rubbing against one another, you can prune to open up the canopy—the best time for this type of pruning is in late winter or early spring. 

Light

Pink flowering dogwoods thrive in partial shade but can handle full sun with appropriate mulching and watering.

Soil

Dogwoods thrive in rich, slightly acidic soil. By far the most important soil condition for pink flowering dogwoods is good drainage.

Water

Water needs are average, but you should never allow your pink dogwood to dry out altogether. Water deeply during periods of drought or heat.

Temperature and Humidity

Flowering dogwoods thrive in shady, dark locations with plenty of rich, damp soil. While they can tolerate a fairly wide range of soil conditions and temperatures, they do not do well if they are too hot or dry.

Fertilizer

If your soil is acidic, well-drained, and rich then there is no need for fertilizer. If it is not, you will need to apply soil amendments including compost both when planting and periodically thereafter. Apply a four-to-six inch layer of mulch around your pink dogwood.

Other Varieties of Dogwood Tree

Although Cornus florida var. rubra is one of the better pink dogwoods, it is not the only one. Cornus kousa Satomi is a form of pink Japanese dogwood. Other varieties, cultivars, and species also have their merits, including: 

  • Cornus florida Cherokee Chief: This is a cultivar with red flowers that is otherwise similar to Cornus florida var. rubra.
  • Cornus mas, also called Cornelian cherry, is a flowering dogwood relative that, in spring, bears small, yellow flowers in clusters.

Some types of dogwood trees are grown as much for their pretty leaves as for their flowers. Wolf Eyes dogwood (Cornus kousa Wolf Eyes) and Golden Shadows pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia Golden Shadows) have variegated leaves. There also some shrubs commonly used in landscaping that are types of dogwoods, including yellow-twig Tatarian dogwood (Cornus servicea Flamiramea) and its red-barked cousin.

Common Pests/Diseases

Anthracnose disease is known to pose a problem for Cornus florida in some regions; ask your local county extension office if your region is one of them (and how to treat it). In areas where the tree is susceptible, it may be best to take the path of least resistance and simply plant another type of tree. Powdery mildew is another common problem for flowering dogwood.

Landscape Uses

Pink dogwood is commonly grown as a specimen tree that attracts attention in spring and fall. There is also a place for it in woodland gardens.

The tree is also prized by wildlife lovers for what it attracts to the yard. The blooms of this plant draw butterflies, and its berries are a favorite of the wild birds.