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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - February 21, 2011

From: Mohegan Lake, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Trees
Title: Flowering Dogwood for NY
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

Hello - can you advise me on a disease-resistant/hardy dogwood? Every nursery I've visited has discouraged me from planting dogwoods. What would you recommend? I live in Westchester County, NY

ANSWER:

Our Native Plant Database tells us that there are ten different dogwoods that are native to New York, but I am assuming that you are referring to Cornus florida (Flowering dogwood).  It is described in our database as "one of the most beautiful eastern North American trees with showy early spring flowers, red fruit, and scarlet autumn foliage".

It is a shame that the nurseries in your area are discouraging you from planting one, as your location is well within its native range as you can see on this map published by the Western North Carolina Nature Center.  It is hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9. Their warnings are likely as a result of a lot of publicity about the many trees in the wild that have died due to anthracnose blight.  The disease is a problem under cool, moist weather conditions, made worse by poor air circulation, as is typical in their native forest habitat. Dogwoods which are planted in more open, sunny conditions are much less prone to the problem.

That being said, they do require evenly moist, acid, well drained soil and partial shade and will not thrive in a full sun, drought prone, compacted suburban lawn.

You will find more information about the plant, its cultural requirements and some information about improved cultivars in this USDA Plant Guide. We also encourage you to contact your local agricultural extension office for advice regarding selecting and planting your tree.

If you can provide a hospitable site for a dogwood, we encourage you to do so.  Many nurseries and garden designers will recommend you plant a (non-native) Kousa dogwood instead, as it will not be as susceptible to disease.  Researchers now suspect that the fungus was actually introduced to this country with the Kousa dogwood.  However, we discourage you from doing so as our indigenous dogwood (with such a wide native range) is an important food source for migrating songbirds.  The berry of the Kousa dogwood is too large for most of our native songbirds to swallow, making it an inappropriate alternative to our natives.

We also recommend you consider the following alternatives:

Cornus alternifolia (Alternateleaf dogwood) (Images)

Amelanchier arborea (Common serviceberry)

Magnolia virginiana (Sweetbay)


Cornus florida


Cornus florida


Amelanchier arborea


Amelanchier arborea


Magnolia virginiana


Magnolia virginiana

 

 

 

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