When to Prune a Dogwood Shrub


The flowering dogwood, scientifically known as Cornus florida, originated in the eastern United States, and is prized by gardeners for its manageable size, eye-catching spring blossoms and pleasing proportions. Although flowering dogwoods are versatile and attractive shrubs for gardens and lawns, they are vulnerable to a variety of fungal infections and insect pests. By following guidelines of basic care and performing judicious and timely pruning, you can help your dogwood resist infection and infestation, and thrive for many years.

Requirements and Considerations

  • In order to thrive, your dogwood needs not only proper pruning, but favorable soil and climate. These shrubs like moist, nutrient-rich, slightly acidic loam, and need to be watered daily during dry spells. Although wild dogwoods like the shade, you should plant yours in a sunny spot to reduce the chance of dogwood anthracnose, a dangerous dogwood fungus that causes water-soaked spots, twig blight and lower branch dieback. Dogwood borers are insects that damage dogwood trees by feeding under the bark of trunks and limbs; they can girdle and kill a dogwood shrub within a year. Pruning dead branches promptly and making clean, slightly angled cuts can help reduce the chances of dogwood borers moving in.

Dogwood Pruning

  • The best time to begin pruning is when the dogwood is young--preferably within the first year after transplanting. If your dogwood is older and you've been neglecting the pruning, the best time of year to do it is in the winter when the shrub is dormant and there is less weight on the branches. Prune to remove dead and damaged branches, as well as for shape, in late winter and early spring. Be particularly careful to avoid pruning in the months of May, June or July because that is when dogwood borers are more active.

    Ensure a shapely dogwood by pruning away multiple leaders--or top vertical branches--so that there is only one leader at the center of the shrub. Avoid excessive or too-frequent pruning, however, as this can cut flowering growth and result in many sprouts at the cut.

    Avoid exposing your dogwood shrub to damage from insects and fungus by working carefully around the fragile bark. Never cut flush with the trunk; this exposes your dogwood to decay. Instead, cut branches just above the collar--the swelling located at the base of the branch where the lower side of the branch grows from the trunk. Cut at a slight angle, so that the top of the cut is closer to the trunk at the top of the branch, and slightly farther away at the bottom.

Tips and Precautions

  • Avoid introducing pests such as borers--and diseases such as dogwood anthracnose--by never transplanting dogwoods from the wild. Buy your dogwood from a reputable nursery, and check the bark to make sure it is free from damage and lesions.

    When you prune your dogwood, use sharp, good-quality garden shears.

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