How to prune Flowering Dogwood? Branches dont tollerate pruning.

njbiologyAugust 17, 2007

Hi,

I'm considering planting a semi-mature Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) in a spot where I'd like to keep not wider then 23'. Flowering Dogwood trees can actually get to be about 33' wide.

I will plant it in partial shade, surrounded by trees on 3 sides, so it should behave a bit like a woodland form. I know someone who prunes his Flowering Dogwood and all of the branches that are pruned become floppy and weak and unhealthy - hard to describe.

Is there a way I can keep this tree from growing wider then 23' and yet not harm the trees branches which are pruned? Any one have experience doing this?

Thanks,

Steve

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duluthinbloomz4

With Cornus Florida, minimal pruning is the key - after all, the beauty of dogwood is its laciness. Any pruning should be done late winter, early spring and then only any odd side growth, crossing branches and/or dead wood. Since it flowers early in the year on growth made during the previous year, drastic pruning will cut the flowering growth.

Maybe the condition of the bad example you cited was caused by over or improper pruning, dogwood borer, or the blight that has dessimated many of the naturally occuring dogwoods in the East. Dogwood is best transplanted when small - a semi-mature specimen could be slow to reestablish itself.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2007 at 2:54AM
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gardengal48

It is unlikely that Cornus florida will reach its full size potential in a garden setting - a spread of 15-20' is much more likely than the 30+ quoted. Should one live that long anyway.....they are rather extensively affected by dogwood anthracnose which will limit their growth to a large extent if not contribute to a significant decline and early demise. You might want to consider Cornus kousa var. chinensis, a much more resistant species and one that tends to be of smaller scale.

Dogwoods respond to frequent or unnecessary pruning by producing a plethora of sprouts at the cut - resulting in a medusa-like quality that is very unattractive. Except for certain types of hedging plants, it is generally not recommended that trees be pruned to restrict or control size. It is far better in terms of their health and appearance to limit pruning to the three D's - diseased damaged or dead wood - or to enhance natural form.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2007 at 11:08AM
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njbiology

Thanks, Duluth and Gardengal,

The thing is this:

(1) I only want Cornus florida, because I only want native non-cultivars; ]
(2) by semi-mature I mean those which are sold B&B at local nurseries - they are big, but not real mature;
(3) I've seen many 25' and some 30' Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus florida non cultivars) in my neighborhood and the setting where I'd keep it will be condusive to its healthy growth;
(4) I'm going to purchase the 'Appalachian Spring' selection which is not really a cultivar - more of a selection choosen among those who survived a major anthracnose fungal blight - with Kousa rootstock, which is as non-native as I will go. So, I think it may survive to reach its mature potential of size.

However, if you say that it wouldn't be good to prune it continually to keep it under 25', which one day - idealistically and hypothetically speaking - I will start to have to prune it continually, against its greater width potential, then maybe I better not plant one. I can put a Northern Sweetbay Magnolia in its place, which in the North will get not get as wide.

So, if I were to keep pruning it, it would produce unsightly sprouts and, as it would be done in the winter, would cut-off flower production, then I should not plant one.

I just want to understand this correctly: I won't be able to keep this tree under 25' wide (even through grown in shade which might make it taller then wide) by pruning and still have a good looking, healthy form? If this is so, the tree is not for me, owing to the extra 10' it may end up reaching.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2007 at 5:50PM
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Nell Jean

It has been my experience that surrounding trees will limit the horizontal growth of a dogwood. In other words, it fills the space but does not grow into stronger trees.

All my dogwoods are 'survival of the fittest' Cornus florida seedlings, home grown. I have eight young trees up to fifteen years old and two ancients that are more than forty years old that demonstrate the space filling phenomena. None have died here.

If I must prune, I cut an entire limb back to the trunk in late winter, or at least back to a Y, cutting off the longer leg of the Y, rather than just lopping off the end, which is where you get the witches broom effect.

I suggest a good book on pruning.

Nell

    Bookmark   August 18, 2007 at 7:23PM
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njbiology

Nell,

Please, let me know about the older trees - how wide? The thing is that on one side, it will go into the neighbors yard after around 10' from the trunck which is on my property. However, the portion that intrudes into the neighbors property will do so directly under a large tree which comepletely shades that site - so I hope it grows upward, rather then so wide. SO, is it the shade or the hitting of i.e. another tree that makes it grow upward?

I can plant another tree 24 feet from it on two sides; this will mean that it can spread out 12 feet on all sides and the rest of the 12' will be displaced by the adjacent tree's spread.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2007 at 9:25PM
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duluthinbloomz4

I'll agree with foxesearth... my experience with a deep wooded lot in Maryland - lots of Cornus Florida along with large oaks, primarily, and a cleared understory planted with rhododendrons, azaleas, spring bulbs, etc. The dogwoods in the woods were pretty much held in check by their surroundings, however a specimen in open space with plenty of sun and no competition got quite large - which is what I had expected of it.

Dogwood is too fine a tree to be tortured into submission with a regular pruning regimen; but I'd say go for planting one especially if your plan is to surround it with other trees, restricting its growthspace and providing woodsy, dappled shade - that should serve to make any pruning unnecessary.

And I also second the idea of looking into a good book on pruning - not just because of your proposed dogwood, but because the correct pruning of anything seems to be a universally perplexing situation for many of us.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2007 at 9:51PM
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njbiology

What if I surround the Dogwood on only TWO out of all four sides with trees - will it grow in very wide as a wedge filling in the two open sides, or will the tree remain uniformly in check keeping only as wide as the two obstructed sides (as per trees) keep it?

Id like to see pics of the over 40 year Dogwoods kept in check, foxearth.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2007 at 2:07AM
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gardengal48

FWIW, 'Appalachian Spring' IS a registered and recognized cultivar of Cornus florida, one of a series of cultivars developed by the University of Tennessee for increased disease resistance.

Here is a link that might be useful: UT Dogwood Research Group

    Bookmark   August 19, 2007 at 10:15AM
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Nell Jean

SO, is it the shade or the hitting of i.e. another tree that makes it grow upward?
The tree is going to reach toward the light, wherever the light is. Dense trees will inhibit it, yes.

Id like to see pics of the over 40 year Dogwoods kept in check, foxearth.

You can see that the foliage on the left side of the tree is wider than the right, which is inhibited by a large juniper (Eastern Red Cedar) to the south of it.
The dogwood that I haven't a photo of was inhibited by the presence of a nearby pecan and an evergreen oak and nibbled by cattle on the fence side, so it is not a specimen tree, misshapen and spindly. Limbs reach out to the light, and little sassafrases have come up around it.

What if I surround the Dogwood on only TWO out of all four sides with trees - will it grow in very wide as a wedge filling in the two open sides, or will the tree remain uniformly in check keeping only as wide as the two obstructed sides (as per trees) keep it?
It will grow toward the light. The sides that are not obstructed reach to the light, is my observation here.

Trees on two sides generally result in more vigorous growth on the open sides. Growth will also vary with the position of the sun and the density of the trees. If there are trees on two sides and a tall building shading a third side, that will affect growth as well.

The size of my trees is irrelevant because of the difference in climate, soil and growing conditions. My young dogwoods of the same age vary in height by several feet, given different siting conditions.

Think about the natural growth of a forest. Dogwoods are lovely understory trees, growing with layered limbs in light high shade and adapting to the site. Planted out in the open, they grow more upright and symmetrical.

Nell

    Bookmark   August 20, 2007 at 12:28AM
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njbiology

Thanks a lot, Nell!

    Bookmark   August 20, 2007 at 11:52AM
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