Early Summer Brings Chinese Dogwood Blooms

Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa) are very lovely trees. Like our native dogwoods, the showy parts of the flower are actually four white bracts; the actual flower is the unimpressive-looking middle.  Chinese dogwoods in my yard seem to be maturing to about the same height as my native dogwoods — maybe a tad shorter. They share the same lateral branching pattern that makes a blooming dogwood appear to float beneath the taller canopy trees.

Unlike our native dogwoods, which finished blooming in my yard back in April, the Chinese dogwoods begin blooming for me in mid-May. And one special variety I grow — Cornus kousa var. angustata — is just now reaching peak bloom. Here’s a close-up of one blooming branch to give you a sense of the spectacular flower-power of this tree:

Cornus kousa var. angustata

You can see that the flowers differ subtly from those of our native dogwood. I think of them as pointier. Here’s a close-up of the flowers:

Cornus kousa var. angustata flower close-up

See the roundish bump in the middle? That’s the early stage of one of the fruits forming. Chinese dogwoods don’t produce the berry-like drupes that our native dogwoods produce. Instead, the fruits are pinkish-red and look a bit like raspberries. It always amazes me how completely different the fruits of these two species are, because they look so much alike in other ways. Birds don’t seem to like these fruits as much as they do those of our native dogwoods, but the squirrels delight in them every early fall when the tree becomes loaded with these reddish globes.

One more astonishing thing about this particular variety — it’s evergreen. In Zone 7 and above, the tree remains reliably evergreen all winter long. That’s not to say it remains pristinely perfect. A deep cold snap or an ice storm will leave my tree looking ragged around the edges until the new growth of spring. But many winters, it’s quite eye-catching as it sits near my front door in January — clearly a dogwood — but with green leaves!

Actually, the leaves in winter become tinged with a deep maroon, which gives the tree a richness it lacks in summer. Now imagine this evergreen dogwood loaded down with raspberry-like fruits in early fall. Talk about four-season interest! Chinese dogwoods have one more asset — they are resistant to most of the diseases that plague our native dogwoods.

I will never forsake our glorious native dogwoods. I’ve already described how much I love them here. But Chinese dogwoods in my landscape extend the blooming period of this genus well into early summer, and the novelty of my evergreen dogwood — which is now after 18 years about 18 feet tall and 15 feet wide — is something I don’t ever think I’ll grow tired of enjoying. Here’s a parting shot of most of the tree, which graces one edge of our front deck:

Evergreen Chinese Dogwood in bloom

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  1. #1 by Sharon Billingsley Cowart on June 9, 2013 - 6:23 am

    Am I correct in that this tree needs sun to bloom? I have 2 that I planted in full shade beneath large oaks. They are large now, and have never bloomed, while the one I bought at the same time and planted for my Mother in part sun has bloomed for years. I am wondering if it would be possible to move my trees…

    • #2 by piedmontgardener on June 9, 2013 - 8:24 am

      Welcome, Sharon.

      From your description, I would guess that you have correctly identified your problem. In my experience, any blooming tree needs a minimum of four hours of direct sunlight during the growing season to stimulate bloom production. Also, both the Asian and native dogwoods are very shallow-rooted. Large oaks are notorious water and nutrient hogs, so they are likely depriving your dogwoods of what they need to create blooms. Moving large trees is always an iffy proposition. Not only must you attempt to save the shallow-rooted dogwoods, but, in your case, you don’t want to damage the roots of the oaks either. My suggestion would be to have a certified arborist limb up your oaks, so that sunlight can reach the dogwoods beneath them. Limbing up the large oaks will also allow better air circulation, which is always a good idea in the fungus-prone southeastern US, where I live.

      Good luck with your dogwoods!

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