Best flowering dogwood trees for your garden

Cornus controversa 'Variegata'

Flowering dogwoods belong to the genus Cornus. These fabulous multi-stemmed shrubs or small trees look good for much of the year with spectacular flowers, foliage that develops glowing autumn leaf colours before falling, and colourful, showy, long-lasting fruits. Depending on the variety, dogwood flowers are borne in winter, spring, or summer. Most flowering dogwoods also have an attractive shape and are therefore superb for small gardens.

There are several flowering dogwood varieties, but most are cultivated varieties of Cornus kousa, which originates from China, Japan, and Korea, and Cornus florida, which comes from North America. These are renowned for their showy and long-lasting flower-like bracts, which are actually modified leaves that surround much smaller, insignificant flowers, and last much longer than the flowers themselves. Other popular dogwoods are Cornus controversa, known as the ‘wedding cake tree’ for its architectural shape, and Cornus mas (Cornelian cherry) which is winter-flowering.

How to grow flowering dogwoods

Grow flowering dogwoods in well-drained, fertile soil in sun or partial shade in a site sheltered from strong winds. Ideally plant in autumn, which is the optimum time for dogwoods to settle in, staking larger plants to prevent wind-rocking, and keep watered during periods of drought for the first two to three years. Mulch annually with leaf mould, garden compost, or chipped bark. Do not prune, apart from removing any dead growth.


Where to grow flowering dogwoods

Flowering dogwoods are compact-growing and attain a maximum height of around six to eight metres, and are therefore ideal for small gardens. Grow flowering dogwood at the back of a border, as a stand-alone plant in a lawn or in a woodland border, or as a specimen in a courtyard garden.

Advice on buying flowering dogwoods

  • Flowering dogwoods are slow growing, eventually attaining mature height after 12-15 years. So buy as big a plant as you can afford, as it will fill the space sooner
  • Nurseries and garden centres sell a limited selection of flowering dogwoods, but you’ll find a wider range available from specialist suppliers or online
  • Always check plants for signs of damage or disease before planting

Where to buy flowering dogwoods

10 best flowering dogwood varieties

1

Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’

Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’

Known as ‘wedding cake tree’ as the branches grow in almost horizontal tiers. Large clusters of many small, star-shaped, pure white flowers are borne all along the branches, held upright on the upper side, almost like candles. Large green leaves have cream-white margins, and turn a rich reddish purple in autumn along with rounded dark blue, almost black berries. Site in sun or shade, with plenty of space around it to appreciate the architectural shape.

Flowers: May to June
Height x Spread: 8m x 8m

2

Cornus ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’

Cornus ‘Eddies White Wonder’. Getty Images

Winner of many awards, this hybrid between Cornus florida and Cornus nuttallii makes a superb display of large white bracts, up to 8cm long. Large green leaves turn glowing shades of purple, red, and orange in autumn. Plant in sun or part shade, in neutral to acid soil.

Flowers: May to June
H x S:
6m x 5m

3

Cornus florida

Cornus florida. Credit: Hilliers Gardens

Vigorous and wider-spreading than most dogwoods, forming a conical large shrub or small tree bearing masses of white to pale pink bracts that are joined at the tips as they open, creating an attractive overall display. Showy red and purple autumn leaf colour. Plant in sun or part shade, in neutral to acid soil.

Flowers: May to June
H x S: 6m x 8m

4

Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Chief’

Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Chief’. Getty Images

One of the showiest varieties of Cornus florida, making a spectacular display of large, bright ruby red to pink bracts, followed by brilliant autumn leaf colour. Plant in sun or part shade, in neutral to acid soil.

Flowers: May to June
H x S: 5m x 6m

5

Cornus kousa var chinensis

Cornus kousa var. chinensis

This handsome flowering dogwood forms a small round-headed tree smothered with bracts that turn from soft green to white then pink, borne on the upper sides of almost horizontal branches. Leaves turn rich shades of bronze and crimson in autumn, along with pink fruits. Plant in sun or part shade, in acidic, well-drained soil.

Flowers: May to June
H x S: 6m x 6m

6

Cornus kousa ‘China Girl’

Cornus kousa var chinensis ‘China Girl’. Credit: Stockton Bury Gardens

Exceptionally free-flowering variety, blooming well from a young plant onwards with large white bracts borne in abundance, followed by red fruits and attractive autumn leaf colour. Plant in sun or part shade, in neutral to acid soil

Flowers: May to June
H x S: 5m x 5m

7

Cornus kousa ‘Miss Satomi’

Cornus kousa ‘Miss Satomi’

Dark pink bracts abundantly borne in early summer, followed by bright red fruits. Leaves turn dark reddish-purple before falling. Plant in sun or part shade, in neutral to acid soil.

Flowers: May to June
H x S: 5m x 5m

8

Cornus kousa ‘Schmetterling’

Large white flower bracts show off well against dark green foliage, followed by red fruits later in the season. Leaves develop rich red tints before falling. Plant in sun or part shade, in neutral to acid soil.

Flowers: May to June
H x S: 6m x 4m

9

Cornus kousa ‘Teutonia’

Cornus kousa ‘Teutonia’

Masses of white bracts age to pale pink in late spring and early summer, followed later in the season by pinky-red fruits. This variety is particularly noted for brilliant purple-red autumn leaf colour. Plant in sun or part shade, in neutral to acid soil.

Flowers: May to June
H x S: 5m x 5m

10

Cornus mas 

Cornus mas

Cornus mas (Cornelian cherry) originates from central and southern Europe. Although less showy than spring and summer-flowering dogwoods, this species blooms in late winter and is tolerant of a wide range of soils and situations. Masses of small yellow flowers are borne on bare stems before the leaves, followed later in the season by cherry-red edible fruits, and leaves turn reddish-purple in autumn. Plant in sun or part shade, any reasonable soil.

Flowers: February to April
H x S: 5m x 5m

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