Caring For A Dogwood Tree

To be honest, dogwood trees are not the easiest tree to grow. Mother Nature does a fine job growing them but human gardeners aren't so good at it. That said, when planted in the right environment and cared for properly, anyone can have good success growing a dogwood tree!

Here's a breakdown of what you need to know regarding feeding and watering Japanese maple trees...

Evaluate Soil Conditions 

Soil pH is Important!

Soil pH is a measurement of the alkalinity or acidity of soil and is measured on a scale of 1-14, with 7 as the neutral mark. Any measurement below 7 indicates acid soil conditions, and anything above 7 indicates alkaline. 

Dogwood trees prefer an acid to neutral soil ranging from 5.5 to 7.0 on the pH scale. Most average garden soil range from 6.0 to 7.0 so there usually isn't a problem with pH. If Azaleas, Camellias, Gardenias or other acid-loving plants are growing well in the planting area you know the soil pH is most likely right for growing a Dogwood. That said, once you know the soil pH, if necessary, you can adjust the pH to meet the needs of your Dogwood tree.

Testing Soil pH

If you're unsure about the pH of your soil, and whether or not it's suitable for growing a Dogwood tree, it's a good idea to test the soil pH in the planting area. You can quickly test soil pH with a inexpensive soil test kit or pH tester probe. 

To raise the pH (make more alkaline) you can add pelletized limestone to the soil. To lower the pH (make more acid) you can apply Soil Sulfur, Aluminum Sulfate, or Chelated Iron. Adding organic compost to the soil or using compost as mulch can also help to increase acidity and maintain acid soil conditions.

Feeding A Dogwood Tree

(Scroll down for watering tips)

When To Fertilize A Dogwood Tree

I fertilize my Dogwood trees during their spring bloom cycle, just prior to when their new leaves will begin to emerge. after new leaves have begun to emerge. I always apply a 1 to 2 inch layer of cured, shredded or chipped wood mulch or pine straw around the tree in spring. As the mulch decomposes it will add vital nutrients to the soil that your Dogwood tree will appreciate. Mulch will also help to conserve moisture and suppress weed growth throughout the growing season.

Note:  Avoid the use of freshly chipped wood for mulch until it has cured in a pile for at least 6 months, a year is better. Avoid placing or piling mulch directly against the base of your tree as this could cause the bark to rot. 

Type Of Fertilizer

When feeding a Dogwood tree, you can apply a slow-release shrub and tree fertilizer  as directed on the product label. Alternatively, you can use an organic plant food. Avoid the use of 10-10-10 and other similar quick-release fertilizers that could burn the roots of your Dogwood tree. 

As mentioned above, I always spread a 1 to 2 inch layer of cured, shredded wood mulch or pine straw around my Dogwood trees every spring. As these organic mulches decompose they will add nutrients to the soil your tree will appreciate.

How Much Fertilizer

This will depend of course on the size of the Dogwood tree you are fertilizing and the type of fertilizer. When using a slow-release shrub and tree type fertilizer read and follow instructions on the product label. If you choose a mild organic plant food, as I highly recommend, you don't have to worry as much about burning the roots of your tree, even if you over-apply. 

Where To Spread The Fertilizer

New Trees: At planting time, to stimulate early root formation and stronger root development you can also water you newly planted dogwood tree with a solution of Root Stimulator, which reduces transplant shock and promotes greener, more vigorous plants. You may also apply a granular slow-release shrub and tree type fertilizer to the soil surface at half the recommended dose on the product label.

Established Trees: The root system of an estanlished  Dogwood tree may extend several feet deep into the soil, but the majority of the feeder roots responsible for absorbing nutrients are in the top 12 inches of soil. Spreading fertilizer on the soil surface is sufficient to reach these feeder roots. Spread fertilizer evenly around each tree, beginning at least 1 foot from its trunk and to a point beyond the drip line (branch perimeter) of the canopy. For every 5 feet in height of your tree spread the fertilizer or compost 1 foot beyond the drip line.

Potted Trees: When feeding potted trees, it is important to use a fertilizer listed for use on potted plants. Make sure to read and closely follow instructions on the product label.

Note:  If the soil is compacted or subject to excessive water runoff, the fertilizer can be applied in a series of holes 6 to 8 inches deep in the same area with about five holes per 1 inch of trunk diameter.

Watering A Dogwood Tree

First and foremost, know that Dogwood Trees require a moist but well-drained soil. Constantly soggy or waterlogged soil is a killer. More Dogwood trees die from too much water than from too little water. Good soil drainage is critical and proper watering is especially crucial when young trees are working to establish a root system during the first two years after planting.

Very Important:  Constantly soggy or wet soil due to over irrigation or poor drainage in the planting area can lead to deadly diseases such as root rot. This is especially true on young, recently planted trees that have yet to establish a good root system. Symptoms of root rot are browning or blackening of leaf edges that eventually works its way down the leaf. If this occurs, check soil moisture with your finger or a moisture meter and reduce watering. If the soil stays constantly soggy I strongly suggest testing the soil drainage in the planting area. If the drainage test indicates a poor draining soil I advise taking steps to improve the drainage or lifting and replanting in a raised mound. Wait to replant established trees until winter, or while the tree is dormant following the instructions in our article titled How To Relocate And Transplant A Tree. 

How To Water A Dogwood Tree

Note: When watering with an automated irrigation system it's best to set your timer to water during the early morning hours and not in the evening or at night, which can lead to the onset of fungus and other foliage diseases. During the first few weeks after planting, check soil moisture often and adjust irrigation time if necessary to keep the root ball and surrounding soil moist, not too wet or too dry. Also keep in mind that when watering with an automated irrigation system, which doesn't water deeply, that to water deeply enough to soak the root ball and surrounding soil to a sufficient depth you may need to provide occasional deeper soakings by hand with a garden hose. 

Warm Season Watering

At planting time

Water deeply at planting time, making sure the root ball, and the surrounding soil, is moist all the way down to its base. Then, each day thereafter, check the soil moisture and only provide water if the root ball and surrounding soil has dried out somewhat or is just lightly damp. After several days of checking soil moisture you should establish how many days you can wait between waterings. Now you'll have a watering schedule. If there's a good soaking rain you can count this as a watering.

Note:  If your soil tends to stay constantly wet this is an indicator the soil is poor draining and I strongly suggest testing the soil drainage in the planting area and either take steps to improve drainage, replant the tree in a raised mound, or relocate your tree to a site with well-draining soil.

During the first growing season

After planting a new Dogwood tree in the ground the tendency is to think it has to be watered every day in order to grow, especially when planted during the summer months. However, in average garden soil, you should not have to water your newly planted Dogwood tree every day. More often than not, this causes soggy soil conditions that can lead to deadly diseases such as root rot. In the absence of sufficient rainfall, water your Dogwood tree only as needed to keep the root ball and surrounding soil damp to moist. Keep in mind that deep soaking less frequently is much better than splashing just a little water around the tree every day. Deep soaking promotes deep root growth and can reduce water loss by evaporation. Always check soil moisture before watering and wait to provide water until the top 2 inches or so of the soil has dried or become lightly damp.

Note:  If the leaves of your Dogwood tree are browning or blackening on the tips, or wilting, this can be the effect of either dry or over-saturated soil. So, before watering, make sure to check soil moisture using the finger test or a moisture meter. If the soil is moist always hold off on watering.


When well-established, which is usually a period of two years, Dogwood trees won't require as much attention to soil moisture and watering. That said, in the absence of rainfall during the warm season even established Dogwood trees will appreciate an occasional deep soaking. During a drought, wilting leaves are usually a sign that your tree could use a good deep soaking. To be on the safe side, always use the finger test or a moisture meter to check soil moisture before watering.

Cool Season Watering

Dormant Dogwood trees won't require much if any supplemental water during the winter months, when trees are dormant and without leaves. Provide water only if necessary to keep the soil damp. Be extra careful not to overwater!

Other Helpful Watering Tips

  • Water Dogwood trees in the early morning. Watering in the late evening or at night can cause fungus and diseases to develop.

  • To avoid leaf scald and foliage disease, when watering a Dogwood tree, avoid splashing water on the foliage. If you water with an irrigation system run it early in the morning, just before or after sunrise and never in the evening or at night. 

  • During winter, if the weather has been dry and forecasters are calling for a deep freeze, deep soak the ground around your tree. Doing so helps to insulate the roots, which prevents freeze drying of roots.

  • Mulching around your trees can reduce the frequency of watering and suppress weed growth. Avoid placing mulch at a thickness of more than 2 inches. Also avoid piling mulch up around the base of the tree, which can cause bark to rot. Keep mulch a few inches away from the trunk. 

  • Control weeds as they will rob water and nutrients from your tree, not to mention steal the show!

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