The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

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Dogwoods offer a spring flower show

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

I'm a Midwestern girl. No other time of year stirs my deeply rooted heritage than in spring. Bodacious blooms abound. From bluebells to crabapples, every plant appears to join me in a celebration of the end of winter and the beginning of a new season.

I get the most enjoyment out of all the small trees showing off and vying for our attention. Every vista is picture worthy. Crabapples adorn every branch with a flurry of flowers. Hundreds of crabapple cultivars exist so if a crabapple is in your planting future do your homework to make sure the tree and fruit size, flower color and disease resistance fits your needs.

The flowers of Redbud are a sure sign spring in the Midwest. Redbud, Cercis canadensis, grows as a native under story tree throughout the forests of the eastern US. It can grow to 30 feet tall and a bit wider at maturity. Redbud also blooms at an early age of 4-7 years. Even the trunks of older trees show off in spring as they parade their pink-purple flowers.

I would rank Flowering Dogwood as the most commonly desired spring flowering tree. And it's also the most commonly killed, replanted, then killed again by well-meaning home gardeners. The large white bracts (those actually aren't flower petals) of Flowering Dogwood flowers are held at the ends of branches like chalices waiting for spring rains. Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida, is native to a large range of the eastern US. Central Illinois is about as far north as it is found in Illinois. Because of its wide range, southern plant sources are not reliably hardy here. Ask the garden center personnel where the trees were grown. If possible, purchase trees grown in areas similar to Illinois such as Indiana or Michigan. Cultivars such as 'Cloud Nine' show good hardiness. Also Flowering Dogwoods need special attention for them to thrive. They are understory trees so they like afternoon shade, wood mulch, plenty of organic matter and moist well-drained acidic soil. Flowering Dogwoods hate to be too wet or too dry.

Another Illinois native Pagoda Dogwood, Cornus alternifolia, is worthy of more landscaper adoration. The small white flowers are held in clusters along horizontal branches in May to early June. It has a pretty fruit show with red to black berries held on red stalks. Birds love the berries. Pagoda Dogwood also prefers some shade, moist soils and mulching.

Although not native, a Kousa Dogwood in flower is a feast for winter weary eyes. The flowering bracts appear 2-3 weeks after Flowering Dogwood, are creamy white and taper to a point at the ends. The flowers are stalked so they rise above the foliage like hovercrafts. Although Kousa Dogwood, Cornus kousa, appreciates the same landscape conditions as other dogwoods such as partial shade, moist acidic soils and mulching, it is probably more adaptable. At 20-30 feet tall and wide it can fit into many landscapes.

Corneliancherry Dogwood, Cornus mas, is probably the most adaptable of all the dogwood trees; however the flowers do not bring to mind Flowering Dogwood. Its small bright yellow flowers make up for a lack of flashiness with earliness. Flowering in late February to March when few other trees flower it commands the spring stage. The resulting half-inch long bright red fruits are edible and very showy in June and July. Corneliancherry Dogwoods at 20-25 feet tall and 15-20 feet wide often resemble large shrubs, but can be trimmed into small trees. They are very effective in groups or as a shrub border.

Other dogwoods such as Gray Dogwood and Bloodtwig Dogwood grow as large adaptable shrubs. Although useful plants their flowers are not as showy as their canine companions.

Get outside and enjoy the flower show of a Midwestern spring.

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