When I hear the word “dogwood” I am immediately transported back to a time in my life when I was living on the east coast in Virginia serving my country as a trumpet player in the 392nd Army Band. If you have ever lived in that part of the country, then you probably have noticed the similarities between our state and Virginia. Both are very green all year long - ours is a coniferous green and Virginia’s is a hardwood green. Both receive lots of rain - ours during the winter and spring, Virginia’s more during the summer (which is why it so humid). And both states have native dogwoods that are just breathtaking in the spring. I shall always have this picture in my mind of driving down a country road, enshrouded with large trees under which are dogwoods, their horizontal branches clothed with layers of white flowers. It is a sight to behold.
As it turns out, there are three main species of dogwoods that can be grown in our northwest gardens. The first to bloom is our native dogwood Cornus nuttallii with extremely large flowers, but unfortunately it is very disease prone and rarely found in the trade any more. In its place are a couple of hybrids that have been crossed with the Korean dogwood (Cornus kousa) for improved disease resistance. Look for Starlight or Venus if you want to go native and be sure to give them some room - they can reach 30 to 35 feet tall.
Cornus florida is the east coast native that has been blooming all over town now for a little while (which is earlier than usual) and comes in both white and pink flavors. There are many selections on the market of this species, including ones with variegated leaves of either green and white or green and yellow. While dogwood anthracnose is a growing problem with the eastern dogwood, it is still possible to grow a healthy looking plant. It may require a few timely applications of a fungicide to minimize leaf damage, but it is well worth the effort. Some varieties are more resistant than others.
Not to be outdone by North America, the Asian Continent also sports a native dogwood! Cornus kousa (Korean dogwood) has a slightly more upright growth habit and blooms in early June, after all the other dogwoods have finished. They also have a charming red berry-like fruit that dangles on the limbs in late summer. Korean Dogwoods are much more resistant to anthracnose which is why most nurseries now recommend planting Korean Dogwoods over all other varieties. They come in both white and pink flavors as well and Satomi and Heart Throb are two good pink selections.
Just to confuse you a bit more, horticulturists at Rutgers University have crossed the eastern and Korean dogwoods to produce some hybrids with bloom times that are intermediate between the two varieties and have disease resistance that is fairly good. Stellar Pink is probably my favorite.
As a whole, all of these dogwood trees will grow well in the northwest when planted in full sun or partial shade and given good drainage. They make an average sized tree with either horizontal branches or a more globe shaped habit, depending on the variety and as an added bonus they have spectacular fall color. You really can’t go wrong with a dogwood.