The dogwood is one of our loveliest native trees. It is highly attractive in all seasons, due to its graceful shape, upturned branches, attractive leaves, beautiful blossoms, and red fall foliage accompanied by red berries.
Dogwood has the added virtue of being a great wildlife tree. If you want to plant a beautiful tree that will attract birds, you can hardly go wrong with a dogwood. Its berries are eaten by many species of birds (as well as by a number of animals.) My neighbor has commented to me that she wishes the beautiful red berries would last into the winter, but the birds usually remove all the berries in short order.
Dogwood is also strong enough to withstand some wind and ice without serious damage, so that's a big plus for the tree.
It can grow up to 40 or 50 feet in height, and it will be about as wide as it is tall. In other words, you should allow a 25 foot radius around the tree's trunk when you plant it.
Sadly, dogwoods have been decimated by disease for the last few decades. During the 1970's, they began contracting dogwood anthracnose, a fungal infection that kills adult trees within three years and kills young trees in a single season.
Anthracnose has been particularly hard on the wild dogwoods that grow in forest conditions -- shady, humid areas with little air movement where fungus can thrive.
Dogwoods can also get spot anthracnose which spoils the appearance of the flowers and leaves, even though it's not usually fatal to the tree. Powdery mildew can also be a problem.
One of the preventive measures for dogwood anthracnose is to plant the dogwood where it gets full sun and good air circulation. It's also important to keep the tree in good health to improve its resistance. Cornell University suggests providing water during dry spells, avoiding injury to the trunk, removing leaf debris from under the tree, and spraying with fungicides during the spring.
The University of Tennessee Dogwood Research Group (UTDRG) identifies several cultivars that resist the various dogwood diseases. If I were planting a dogwood, I'd look for one of these rather than digging up a dogwood from the woods.
UTDRG developed the dogwood-anthracnose resistant cultivar "Appalachian Spring" which was released in 1998. I like it because it's 100% native dogwood, not a cross with a Korean dogwood. Hopefully, they'll eventually get a cultivar that's resistant to both spot and dogwood anthracnose and powdery mildew as well.
Meanwhile, don't be afraid to plant a dogwood. Look at all the beautiful, healthy dogwoods that are growing in other people's yards! Chances are good that you'll be able to grow a beautiful healthy dogwood too.
Related: Dogwood thoughts for Easter