Cornus florida, the dogwood tree, is one of the most popular landscape trees we plant. We adore the large, showy bracts that appear in the spring before the leaves. It is often one of the first trees to provide a welcome relief from our winter-weary gray days and this small, understory tree is beloved by gardeners around the world. We all enjoy the spring show, but the dogwood does double duty and lights up our gardens again in the autumn with flaming red leaves and bright berries.

red leavesVery few trees are as showy as the dogwood in the fall. They rival Japanese maples with their scarlet leaves that stand out over great distances and make a fantastic focal point for your autumn garden. Along with the bright leaves, the red berries shine like little candles at the ends of the branches and as an added asset, the berries are very attractive to many species of birds. Cardinals and Blue Jays find them especially tasty in my garden.

ImagePlant dogwood trees where they can get at least 8 hours of sunlight each day and in soil rich in organic matter and humus. These are understory trees that usually flourish on the edges of hardwood forests and in the deep south, can benefit from a bit of afternoon shade. However, be aware that the best fall color will develop when the tree receives more sunlight. Morning sun is good because it dries the leaves and branches early, preventing the development of various fungal diseases that tend to plague these trees. Take care to prevent damage to the bark from lawn mowers and weed trimmers because wounds of this nature tend to attract disease as well.

berriesThe pretty red berries can be germinated to grow your own little dogwood trees. Since the various pink cultivars are hybrids, chances are good that the seedlings will revert to the species and bloom white, but it is still a fun project. The berries are ripe when they start to fall from the tree in autumn. Gather a handful and soak them in water until you can squeeze the fleshy pulp from the seed. After the seeds are cleaned, take a knife and nick the seed coat slightly and place them in damp sphagnum moss.(this is called scarification) All of this goes into a container and placed in the refrigerator for 4 months. (this is called stratification) Make sure the container can breathe a bit and that mold doesn't form. At the end of 4 months, plant the seeds in sterile potting mix and place them in a warm spot. A good percentage should germinate.

leavesYou can also take hardwood cuttings in the late winter from trees with pink blossoms. This will assure you of getting the colored flowers. Cuttings should be 3" to 6" long from terminal ends and contain at least 2 sets of leaf buds. Clip the flower buds to channel your cutting's energy into making roots. Dip in rooting hormone past one set of leaf buds and place in sterile potting mix. Keep in a cool, sunny area and make sure that the potting mix stays slightly damp. As with the seeds, make several cuttings, because the success rate isn't high. Your trees should bloom 5 to 7 years after they sprout new growth.

Dogwoods make great garden trees because they are small enough for most any property and have a delicate, airy silhouette that compliments many garden styles. The autumn color is spectacular, so tuck on into a corner and prepare for the show!