By Nancy Buley, Communications Director, J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.
Photographs courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.
Flowering dogwoods bring joy to the landscape, delighting us through the seasons with an ever-changing cornucopia of flower, foliage, fruit and form. Few small trees match the year-round beauty of the varied genus Cornus that delivers bright blooms ranging from hot pink to sizzling yellow to snow white. Unique cultivars flaunt foliage that ranges from deep green to uniquely variegated. In autumn, dogwoods deliver a kaleidoscopic show of bright fall colors that may include red, orange, purple and pink tones.
Native (Cornus florida) and Asian (Cornus kousa) dogwoods and their hybrids developed at Rutgers University present a wide range of flower and foliage colors. Add to these our introductions of the late winter-flowering Cornelian Cherry Dogwood (C. mas) and the late flowering species, Giant Dogwood (C. controversa), and you have a bloom extravaganza that goes on for several months. Of the many dogwood species and their cultivars developed over the past century, we propagate and distribute 26 outstanding performers to wholesale growers and garden centers across North America. Many more are described in the book Dogwoods, The Genus Cornus, authored by Paul Cappiello and Don Shadow. Your local independent garden center can advise you of the best choices for your local growing conditions. We share a few of our favorites:
Named for its drifts of large, flat-topped clusters of white, star-like flowers that float above its horizontally spreading branches, this unique and unusual dogwood is a tree for all seasons. Blooms give way to abundant clusters of tiny blue-black fruits that are quickly devoured by birds. Lush, dark green leaves stay fresh through the heat of summer and offer a kaleidoscopic medley of purple, red and yellow-orange fall colors. Broad spreading to 40 feet, and 30 feet in height, it presents a unique winter silhouette. To zone 5.
Venus® Dogwood (Cornus (kousa x nuttallii) x kousa ‘KN 30-8’ PP 16309)
Extra-large flowers are traffic stoppers and the source of garden envy when they bloom in late spring. Branches are laden with gorgeous creamy white blooms that can exceed six inches in diameter. Nearly sterile, this exotic hybrid developed at Rutgers University bears little fruit. Deep green foliage turns red to purple red in autumn. 25’ tall x 20’ wide, to zone 5b.
Clean, dark green foliage unfurls to set the stage for large, firm, long-lasting creamy white flowers that appear in late spring. Mildew and anthracnose-resistant foliage blankets the branches of this upright oval tree developed at Rutgers University. A smattering of orange fruits of 3/4-inch diameter appear among the leaves in late summer and lasts into fall, when foliage turns to bright red orange. 30’ x 20’, to zone 6.
White flower bracts of late spring bring joy to the landscape as they bloom amid the uniquely variegated leaves. Their white margins are brighter white than those of other variegated dogwoods, and glow in bright contrast to the predominately green leaves. Autumn leaves are red orange and edged with pink. 18’ x 15’, to zone 5.
This tree will steal your heart when its large reddish to rose-pink flowers unfurl in spring. Formed by bracts and reaching up to four inches in diameter, the flowers last as long as two months here in cooler climates. Attractive dark green foliage turns deep red in the fall, when red fruits of about 3/4” diameter add seasonal interest. 20’ x 20’, to zone 5.
This is an exciting introduction from the Rutgers University dogwood breeding program. Rare because it is newly introduced, it is worth the extra effort to find it. Foliage emerges with a purple blush and matures to dark green – a perfect background for the dramatic fuchsia-pink blooms that float atop the leaves in late spring and last for several weeks. Each bloom, formed by pointed bracts, resembles a four-pointed star. Fall color is maroon. 20’ x 18’, to zone 5.
No discussion of dogwoods can take place without mention of the ever-popular Pink Flowering Dogwood. It’s an old time favorite for good reason, and a Mother’s Day gift tradition. For hotter, drier growing conditions where the classic pink dogwood isn’t likely to thrive, try Prairie Pink Dogwood. Much tougher than its soft pink springtime blooms would imply, it was selected at Kansas State University for superior performance on the Great Plains. Thick glossy leaves that are heat and tatter resistant make it a good choice for Rocky Mountain, Great Basin and California landscapes, too. Fall color is orange red to purple red. 20’ x 20’, to zone 6.
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