a mixed year here for kousa dogwoods

kousa-branchI T’S NOT THE BEST KOUSA DOGWOOD YEAR EVER here, with only half-hearted blooms in most cases and some of the gang having taken a decided hit in the up-and-down weather. But it’s Cornus kousa (or Korean dogwood) season nonetheless, so time to visit the gang and celebrate them.

kousa-with-golden-yewI have an unnamed Kousa seedling near the front path (top and above), a favorite of the chipmunks when it’s in fruit because they live in a wall right beneath the tree (their post-feast debris, below). Its “feet” are hidden by two low-growing prostrate golden yews (above), which will show off the peeling Kousa bark nicely year-round as the trunk shapes up with age.


My favorite Kousa, the variegated shrublike one called ‘Wolf Eyes,’ looks anything but happy right now, perhaps a combination of an extra-dry May with repeat late frosts tossed in for good measure. That’s it below, in the distance.

variegated-kousaMea culpa for not watering it properly, I guess; it looked good early on and then, poof, toast.  No brittle twigs, thankfully; just lots of crisp leaf edges. I’m watching for signs of what it wants to do next before I do anything but keep it well-hydrated (no food, no pruning, not yet).

weeping-kousa-flowersAnd then there’s the smallest: a weeping Kousa, the one called ‘Lustgarten Weeping’ that I almost tossed, as those of you who were here last year will recall. Despite the fact that my un-beloved yellow bellied sapsucker male apparently moved from the nearby lacebark pine that was his passion last year to the weeping Kousa sometime in the last few months, it’s flowering mightily (the appropriately smaller flowers, above), trying to carry on as if nobody turned its bark to a stencil pattern. Yikes, and just when I had finally gotten to like the plant (of course).

Admittedly, I have a wandering eye. I’ve been noticing a few pink-flowered Kousas nearby the last week in my travels and feeling almost tempted…maybe there will be another adoption soon, but I have some reading to do first on which varieties are best, or whether an intermediate hybrid between C. kousa and C. florida would be better. Which Kousa dogwoods do you grow, and how are they faring this year as spring turns to summer?

  1. Marion says:

    Do you know Don Shadow? At this year’s Mid-Atlantic Hardy Plant Soc. ‘March Into Spring” affair, he talked for an hour about every conceivable kind of Dogwood! You would not believe all the different Kousa/Florida crosses there are! If you want to know anything about Dogwoods, I’d say he’s the guy to go to.

  2. Balsamfir says:

    Alas, they don’t live here. But I’m really posting to thank you for the tips on getting clematis to go where you want them. So simple. A stick and a handful of lime and I finally have tons of buds in the Rosa Glauce. Thanks.

  3. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    Last fall my neighbors had a number of trees moved on their property. A landscape service initially planted a Kousa Dogwood, right up by the foundation of their house. My neighbor, for a few years tried keeping it’s growth habit under control to no avail. Last fall the MUCH pruned tree was dug out, by a plant moving service, and it now boarders my north side garden. It will be intersting to see how Mother Nature handles it’s reshaping, now that it can grow as it wants.

  4. Margaret says:

    @Marion: How great that you got to hear Don Shadow, one the greatest nurserymen of the era. He also has a passion for Japanese maples and so many other things. What a treat!

    @Balsamfir: I am glad you and the Clematis are getting on better. :) (And BTW, I love Rosa glauca, too.)

    @Fred: Painful to hear about its unfortunate haircuts, but glad the tree was released from its too-small place. As for how it will look eventually, hmmmm…..

  5. Alison says:

    I live in Columbia County, not far from you and I have many wild dogwoods on my property. When I bought the place (26 years ago) I was told that there is a blight that kills this wild variety of dogwood just as they reach maturity but so far they seem to be doing fine. Do you know the botanical name for these wild dogwoods and do you know anything about this “blight”?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Alison. If they are trees, they are probably Cornus florida, the native flowering dogwood. They often get nice fall foliage color and produce orange-red fruits as well. Another smallish tree, Cornus alternifolia, is also native to the region, but I suspect you mean C. florida. Both can get diseases, but the C. florida in particular are susceptible to a fungal disease called anthracnose, which is particularly harsh in wet years. You can read about this problem (an introduced diseased that has been in the US since the 70s) in this fact sheet from Cornell.

  6. Leslie says:

    While I live in a bit warmer area than you do it is basically zone 5/6. I may not have Don Shadow here but I do Have Dick Jaynes as a friend. I have a Ck ‘Summer Games’ which is, I believe a seed sibling of ‘Wolf Eyes’ and it is great. I also have a young plant of ‘Beni Fugi’. It is pink but has not reached a maturity so that it flowers well yet. I also save some random seedings and with kousa there are usually plenty. One that has reached maturity is a cross with florida, i think and looks like the Stellars and blooms between the two species.

  7. Chase Cline says:

    I’m so happy that you posted this! I’ve seen a few of these and was wondering what they were called! I see them all over Delaware (where i live) and they all look amazing. So i def need one for my yard.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Chase Cline. The Kousas are a showy bunch, aren’t they? Glad to “meet” you and do come again soon.

  8. pru says:

    I have a nameless pink Cornus Kousa that (according to my notes) I bought in Nov 2002 for 75% off. It was the first tree I ever planted – and I was 62 at the time. Who knew I’d spend my dotage planting TREES? The same notes indicate that I gave it a drastic pruning in June, 2004. “Too much foliage clustered at low level”, I observed. I do recall that it was all kind of a tangled mess. Since then it has met all my modest growing and blooming expectations, though its growth has been much more horizontal than I anticipated – maybe the result of my ad hoc pruning techniques?

    Unexpectedly, this year there were only a few scattered blooms. I took it personally. But now that I think of it, the white Kousas that I usually notice all over town around now aren’t putting on much of a show either.

    It does seem to be shaping up to be a good year for the hydrangeas!

  9. benjia says:

    I bought a Florida last fall( I live in lakeville, Ct.) and put it adjacent to my new shade border. It gets some sun and has gotten thru a tough experience this Winter. One of it’s two branches broke off (?..how that happened is beyond my understanding)and it now has a sinuous, sway back shape. It could be quite lovely and it is leafing out beautifully.
    I bought it ’cause it is a native but your blog clues me in to the fact it is prone to disease. Oh well..what we learn after we committ. benjia

  10. Steve says:


    Last Friday at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s “Rare Affair” we sold a Cornus “Venus”–a cross between kousa and the cornus nuttalli (sp?) from the Pacific NW. Upright habit, large white flowers that turn to pink as they age, and apparently bone hardy in zone 5. It was absolutely gorgeous, and if I hadn’t just planted a plain old kousa in my last available spot I’d be sorely tempted–love the chance to get both white and then pink!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Steve. The dogwood sounds beautiful. Time to study up over here on what’s up with newish dogwood selections, I think. Uh-oh. Could mean more plants. :)

  11. Jeff says:

    My current favorite is C. k. ‘angustifolia’ (listed as a separate species by many sources). Mine is relatively young, but maintains its clean foliage through the winter (though without fall color – can’t have everything) and is growing like a champ. I was lucky enough to be wandering with Pamela Harper through her incredible garden the other night just before dusk, and her specimen lit our way back to the house (and her spectacular carrot cake!) with its shower of ivory blooms along the long gravel drive.

  12. Margaret says:

    Welcome, Steve. Now you, too, are sending me to the reference materials. I fear this post and all the resulting anecdotes and suggestions are going to really cost me some $$$. :) Thanks for your visit, and come again soon.

  13. Donna says:

    I finally found a Kousa “Wolf-Eyes” in a local Cape Cod nursery yesterday. I’m planting it this morning in advance of days of rain! If the weather predictions are right, it should be perfectly watered in thanks to a wet several days. [We, too, have had more rain than sun this June.] Fortunately, the complete 6 disc collection of the British garden mystery series, “Rosemary and Thyme” arrived on my doorstep yesterday as well.

  14. Dear Margaret, I have posted twice about the dogwood “Venus”, developed at Rutgers University. A hybrid of C. Kousa, and C. Nutallii (this looks spelled wrong)-it is hardier than C. Kousa, loves full sun-and best of all, has giant white flowers-measuring 6-7 inches across. It was in flower for me a full four weeks, before the blooms pinked, and fell. It is the most fabulous flowering tree I have ever had the pleasure to plant. Deborah

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Deborah. Nice to see you; thanks for the glowing recommendation. I am reading up (including at your place). See you soon again.

  15. Judith Mangiero says:

    Wondered if anyone has had my experience this year. My Kousa dogwood outdid itself in 2008 with blossoms and fruits. This year (June 2009) the leaves are much larger than normal and there have been very few blossoms — and those appeared mostly on one side of the tree. Could it have been the dry winter we had in New Jersey?

  16. Pat says:

    With those kousa fruits, why not make a pie? I’d love to know how it tastes if you do. Edible Landscapes of Afton, Va., sells Kousa for fruit. Would you call it kousaberry?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Pat. I have tried them and they taste OK, but you have to fight the chipmunks here for the crop (as with everything else….somebody else eats it before you get to it). I think if they were unbelievably tasty I would fight harder, but as I recall they are just OK: sweet, and I think the skin is a little tough or bumpy (can’t recall exactly). But yes, cute: kousaberry pie!

  17. Tracey says:

    At the beginning of June I purchased a beautiful pink cornus kousa “satomi”. We planted it as we had been told and watered it every day and then reduced it to every other day when we hit a rainy spell. Eventually the flowers were blown off by the wind and several sets of new leaves appeared at the end of each branch. Two weeks later the edges of the leaves began to turn brown and curl. It is planted in a sunny location but as I said we haven’t gotten much sun this year. Is it not being watered enough? Is it planted in the wrong place? If I need to move it when should it be done (November)? Please help and I don’t want to lose it!!!
    Thanks so much.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Tracey. I have had the same experience after moving a Kousa here, with that characteristic leaf-edge browning. Don’t feed it, and don’t overwater (or let it dry, of course). Really check by sticking your fingers deep into the surrounding soil whether it needs watering again….it’s not meant to be swimming. And don’t move it again. The root-disturbance of the move has probably affected the plant’s ability to take up water, or it wasn’t well-hydrated before the move, so it just needs to sulk and recover on its own, I think. Again, just don’t add to the stress with food, another move, or over/underwatering.

  18. Joann says:

    I have a beautiful unnamed kousa in my front window beside the front door. It gets morning sun and acts as my shade for the living room in spring and summer. It was a mature tree when I moved into the house 16 years ago, so I suspect it is between 20 and 30 years old. It is prefect cover for the birds at my feededs in fornt of the window. It blooms profusely with lots of fruit for wild life and has beautiful fall color. I love it. The problem is in the last few years about a third of the branches have died. It is also misshapen. tall on the house side and short on the outter side. I want to prune the taller branches to give it a more rounded shape. When is th ebest time to prune, and what do you think is killing it. I realize that I have sprayed roundup on weeds under the tree that have been difficult to control. There is a layer of landscaping plastic and mulch under it.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Joann. Roundup damage to trees usually expresses itself as late-to-leaf-out, undersized, sometimes distorted leaves the next year or so, and yes, it does very serious damage and can bring death to whatever is growing there, not just the “weeds.” If you have been using herbicides, I’d suspect that may be the trouble. Of course, there are many other reasons that older trees decline…but with exposure to chemicals in the mix, that seems the leading candidate.

      As for pruning, it is typically done just after bloom…but you can’t just shear back the one side to match the other; it won’t respond well to such pruning.

  19. Laurel Davis says:

    Six years ago we moved from Long Island to Southern Vermont. I potted up 2 seedlings that had sprouted under my cornus kousa. When we got to Vermont, i sunk the pots in the ground until we got the yard under control and finally planted them in their permanent locations 4 years ago. They were in 1 gallon pots until they were 2 years old. Now they are growing beautifully, about 8-10 feet tall, but they have never bloomed. I believe we are zone 5 in this area of Vermont,but that could be borderline. How old do trees have to be before they bloom? Am I being impatient? I’m so looking forward to seeing them bloom! Thank you!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Laurel. I don’t have a precise year for you, as each plant has a mind of its own somewhat. Seedling-grown dogwoods can take a long time to bloom — like even 10 years. I had one that did just that…grew and grew and grew into a pretty big thing before it really started to perform on the flower front. Then it bloomed lightly and now — wow.

      You can find your hardiness zone by zip code here to be sure. It’s a Zone 5 plant, you are correct.

      See you soon again.

  20. Beth says:

    Last summer I planted 10 Kousa dogwoods, each about 4 feet tall. During the winter, either deer or rabbits “pruned” them severely. Is it possible for the trees to survive? How can I assist them and what indications of survival should I be watching for?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Beth. The plants will probably live, but here’s the thing: they will probably be badly misshapen, not the form you had in mind. Only you can tell that by what framework is left and where the new growth “breaks” and starts rejuvenating. Typically this is not a pretty picture and few things (other than twiggy shrubs that simply regrow from the base) come out of it the way you want them to be, sad to say.

  21. Marcia says:

    I am on my second Cornus Rubra, in less than a year. We purchased a fairly good sized tree last August in PA, and they planted it- we had full sun and scorching temp. We were told to water for 1/2 hr on, 1 hr off, 1/2 hr on. eery other day for 2 weeks, then 3 x/ per week,for 2 weeks, then weekly. We stopped watering when it got cold. The tree lost all the leaves soon after it was planted, but since flal was coming, I figured it was Ok. This Spring we couldn’t wait for the tree to have leaves. It never did, and look dead. We returned to the Nursery several times and were told to give it a few more weeks, twice. We scratched the bark and twigs and there was no sign of green. We called the nursery, erc, went back again, and they let us pick out another tree, but this was finally the beginning of May. We couldn’t get them here to plant the second one till mid-May. We had a rainy spell, then scorching heat. The new one has suffered. The leaves started turning brown at the edges and had some spots. They began turning crispy and drying up. My husband took a leaf and pics to the Nursery, as was told to spray it for fungus, which he did, and to spray again in 2 weeks. I have been watering according to the original schedule, but the guy at the Nursery when he took the leaf and pics said to stop watering it- only water once per week. But our guts say this tree is suffering in scorching 90’s heat, and we went back to the original schedule. There are a few green soft leaves, but must are dryed up and brown starting on the edges, and some of the smaller branches look brown with no live leaves. We cannot get another replacement according to the contract and I don’t want another dead tree!! HELP!! Will this tree recover? And will it get new leaves or is this it for the year??

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Marcia. I might be the wrong person to ask for encouragement! I just cut down two of three Cornus florida (not the rubra, or pink-flowered, version you refer to but otherwise the same species). Dogwood anthracnose, a fungal disease, has just weakened mine to much to be able to justify watching them limp along. Stressed trees are particularly vulnerable to anthracnose where it is present — so transplanted trees, trees exposed to bouts of heat after planting, etc. are good examples of stress.

      Flowering dogwoods prefer a semi-shaded spot and a good layer of organic mulch to keep their roots cool in summer, but even in good soil and best conditions this fungal disease is very hard to beat if present. I am not planting this dogwood again, and expect to take out my last tree (one of what was three) before long, sadly. I can’t justify the use of chemicals (I garden organically) and that’s about the only way to even hope to keep it alive.

  22. Kelly says:

    Hello, I hope you know what is wrong with my dogwood! It is a cornus kousa chinensis, planted about 8-9 years ago. Put on a good show of flowers last year, but this spring here in Washington has been terrible! Very cold and rainy. Well the leaves are very light green in color, and the last week or so are turning brown starting at the tips. This is affecting well over half of the leaves, and much fewer flowers than last year. Do you think too much moisture is the problem?
    Thank you so much for any advice,

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Kelly. Generally speaking, kousas are resistant to fungal diseases that plague the native flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, but there are exceptions (especially in wet years). Does any of this sound like what you are experiencing?

  23. Beth says:

    Margaret, my “animal-pruned” kousas (posted above) have come back in a variety of ways. One looks just like the small tree I had in mind. Another is abundantly branched out at the top and looks rather like a leafy bouquet. The others have broken out with leaves in various spots along the original trunk, a couple at the base only, others part-way up the trunk but not at all in the upper foot or two of the trunk. Is it possible to prune these into tree-like shapes rather than the shrub forms you predicted? If there is growth at the bottom only, what should I do? Should I give up and replace the bottom-leafers?

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