The first time I ever laid eyes on a dogwood, its beauty mesmerized me. It was our first spring in Oregon, and the Pacific dogwood’s (Cornus nuttallii) graceful silhouette of bare branches erupted in an explosion of creamy-white flowers, some flushed with pink. Months later, I found out that the dogwood’s main attraction of flowers were actually decorative bracts—large, petallike leaves surrounding small and insignificant greenish-yellow blooms. I soon discovered that there was more to dogwoods than just their fabulous spring show. From summer berries and fall foliage to great winter textures, they have year-round appeal.
Dogwoods Attract Wildlife
Not only do dogwoods have good looks, but they also attract wildlife. All sorts of critters use this tree. For starters, giant silk moths and several species of butterflies favor dogwoods as host plants. The trees’ spring flowers also provide nectar to bees and other pollinating insects, including spring azure butterflies. American robins, northern mockingbirds and sparrows will build nests on the trees’ horizontal branches, and many others seek shelter in its leaves. And, of course, there’s the high-fat, fleshy and red fruit that more than 35 species of birds will eat, including northern cardinals, tufted titmice, bluebirds, juncos and waxwings.
Dogwoods come in all shapes and sizes, from a hardy ground cover only 6 inches high to stately trees towering 60 feet tall. The family has more than 40 species of mainly deciduous, ornamental trees and shrubs, with most growing as graceful trees that are 6 to 30 feet tall. Dogwoods put on their best show when you grow them in well-drained, fertile and moderately moist soil in full sun, with most preferring light shade. Slightly acidic soil is best, with optimum soil pH between 5.5 to 6.0. Keep dogwoods healthy by mulching around trees (but away from the trunk) with plenty of compost. This will keep roots cool and conserve soil moisture. Compost is ideal, though straw, bark, pine needles and shredded leaves also make good mulches. Dogwoods are one of the best ornamental trees for multi-seasonal appeal, as well as a multi-use attraction for wildlife. Whether you grow one or several, spring is the perfect time to add one to your yard!
Attract Birds with Dogwood Trees
These five great picks offer food, shelter and more!
1. Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). Grows to 20 feet tall, with a wide, 20- to 30-foot canopy. Leaves turn glowing red in fall, with fruit lasting into winter. Look for varieties resistant to anthracnose fungal disease. Zones 5 to 8.
2. Japanese flowering dogwood (Cornus kousa). Grows to 20 feet tall. Flowers in late spring to early summer, with late summer and fall raspberry-like fruits that persist into winter. Leaves turn yellow or scarlet in autumn. Zones 5 to 8.
3. Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii). Native to the Pacific Northwest and northern California, this all-star beauty grows from 20 to 50 feet. Autumn leaves in shades of yellow, pink and red later drop to reveal gray branches and interesting bark patterns. Zones 6 to 8.
4. Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia). Bushy shrub or small tree growing from 12 to 20 feet tall and wide. Fragrant, starlike and creamy flowers appear in late spring to early summer, followed by a bird buffet of irresistible blue-black fruit. Autumn leaves turn red to deep burgundy. Zones 3 to 7.
5. Red twigged dogwood (Cornus sericea). Grows 6 to 10 feet tall, depending on variety. Small, creamy-white flowers appear throughout summer, followed by white fruit with a slight bluish tinge. The hallmarks of this species are its brilliant red fall foliage and blazing red winter twigs. Varieties with yellow twigs and branches also are available. Zones 2 to 8.