How to Grow Pink Dogwood (Cornus Florida Var.)

Pink flowering dogwood tree branch with blooms.
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The pink dogwood (Cornus florida var. Rosea) is notable for the profusion of pastel flowers that cover the trees each spring for about two to four weeks. Like other dogwoods, the pink variation is a very good landscape tree for the rest of the year, with green foliage that turns purplish in fall, and reddish berries that draw butterflies and birds. 

Description

The aptly names "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 starts out reddish before morphing into the pink color for which they are named.

Since the spring and summer foliage is nothing special, the next feature to anticipate 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 gains prominence once the leaves fall. 

The plants stand 15-25 feet tall with a similar or somewhat greater spread. 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 Information

Flowering dogwoods are broadleafdeciduous trees. The pink variations include Cornus florida var. Rosea and C. florida var. Rubra. The genus is native to eastern North America. C. Florida var. Rosea is listed for USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9. 

Landscape Uses

Pink Dogwood, like its cousins, is commonly grown as a specimen tree that attracts attention in spring and fall. Alternatively, because they are natural understory trees that thrive in partial shade, there's also a place for them in woodland gardens.

The blooms of this plant draw butterflies, and its berries are favorite for birds.

Growing Pink Dogwood

Plant pink dogwood trees in well-drained soil with a soil pH on the acidic side. Fertilize by working compost into the ground. Since Cornus florida is an understory tree in the wild, it may be best to grow it in partial shade in the landscape (particularly in hot climates), although some homeowners do grow pink dogwood trees in full sun. Applying a few inches of mulch during the high temperatures of summer will help the tree's root system. 

Since flowering dogwoods are valued for their horizontal branching patterns, take care to prune away storm-damaged limbs. 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 any time. If you notice limbs rubbing against one another, you can prune to open up the canopy—the best time to prune is in late winter or early spring. 

Pests and Diseases

Anthracnose is known to pose a problem for Cornus florida in some regions; in these areas, it may be best to take the path of least resistance and simply plant another type of tree. Powdery mildew is another common problem.

Related Varieties

Although C. florida var. Rosea is one of the better pink dogwoods, other varieties also have their merits: 

  • C. florida var. Rubra may be more readily available in some areas. It has a similar growth pattern, appearance, and care requirements as Rosea. Missouri Botanical Garden (MBOT) lists this Missouri native tree as attaining a height of 15 to 30 feet, with a similar spread. 
  • Cornus kousa "Satomi' is a form of pink Japanese dogwood. 

For other related trees without the pink flower color, try one of these: 

  • Cornus florida 'Cherokee Chief' is a red-flowering cultivar, otherwise similar to the pink varieites.
  • Cornus mas, also called Cornelian cherry, is a dogwood relative that in spring bears small yellow flowers in clusters.

Some types of dogwoods are grown as much for their pretty leaves as for their flowers. For example, the following two types have variegated leaves: Wolf Eyes and 'Golden Shadows' pagoda dogwood

There also some shrubs commonly used in landscaping that are types of dogwoods, including Red-twig dogwood and Yellow-twig dogwood