Kousa Dogwood Care: Tips For Growing Kousa Dogwood Trees

By: Anne Baley

When looking for an attractive specimen tree for their landscaping design, many homeowners go no further when they come upon the Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa). Its unique mottled peeling bark sets the stage for a wide branching canopy, thick branches of bright green leaves and drifts of white flowers every spring. Keep reading to get tips for growing Kousa dogwood trees and how to take care of Kousa dogwoods in the landscape.

Kousa dogwood trees begin life with an upright design, but their branches grow out horizontally as the trees mature. The result is an attractive canopy that will fill a large portion of the yard. Many people use them as a focal point by attaching small twinkle lights to the underside of the canopy, creating a magical look for evening relaxation.

Kousa Dogwood Varieties

There are a number of Kousa dogwood varieties, and the only basic difference is how each tree looks.

  • “Gold Star” has a golden stripe down each leaf in the spring, which darkens to a solid green later in the summer.
  • “Satomi” and “Stellar Pink” have pink flowers instead of white ones.
  • “Moonbeam” has giant flowers almost 7 inches (17 cm.) across and “Lustgarden Weeping” is a smaller version of the tree, often reaching about 8 feet (2.5 m.) tall while still spreading almost 15 feet (4.5 m.) wide.

Whatever Kousa dogwood cultivar you choose, it will have the same basic care needs as all the other varieties.

Tips for Growing Kousa Dogwood Trees

Kousa dogwood does much better when planted in the spring than in the fall, so wait until the last sign of frost has passed before putting in your new tree.

When it comes to planting dogwood Kousa trees, it all begins with the soil. Like most dogwoods, these trees enjoy a spot with rich, moist soil in full sun to partial shade. Dig a hole about three times the size of the root ball on your sapling, but keep the depth the same. Plant your Kousa dogwood trees at the same depth they were growing in the nursery.

Kousa dogwood trees aren’t very drought-tolerant, so make sure to keep the soil moist throughout the summer, especially in the first three years when the tree is establishing itself. Add a circle of organic mulch about 3 feet (1 m.) wide around the base of the tree to help retain moisture to the roots.

The bark of the Kousa dogwood is so attractive that you’ll want to selectively prune branches to show it off as part of your Kousa dogwood care. If the bark looks good, the mature branches are even better. The older the tree gets, the more the branches grow horizontally, giving the tree a spreading look that with a decorative canopy.

From the drifts of flowers in the spring to the abundant bright red berries late in the summer, Kousa dogwood trees are an ever-changing, attractive addition to almost any landscaping design.

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How to Care for Kousa Dogwoods

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Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) adorns its surroundings with elegantly star-shaped, cream-colored spring blooms, red summer berries and striking, red-to-purple autumn leaves. Its compact, 15- to 30-foot mature size and horizontal branching habit make the tree an ideal counterpoint for vertical structures. Kousa cultivars include "Wolf Eyes (C. kousa "Wolf Eyes"), with ivory- margined, grayish-green foliage that deepens to reddish-pink in fall. Suitable for U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8, these generally pest- and disease-resistant, deciduous trees thrive with moderate care.

Plant kousa dogwood in full sun to partial shade and organically rich, consistently moist well-drained soil. Dogwoods on poorly drained sites have increased risk of root disease. Kousas perform best in sandy, acidic soils with pH readings between 5.5 and 6.9, but will tolerate neutral to mildly alkaline soils between 7.0 and 7.5.

Test the soil before watering and irrigate when the upper 3 to 4 inches are dry. Water deeply enough to wet the top 1 foot of soil, where the bulk of the roots form. During dry spells, including cool fall weather, water every three to seven days. Overwatering robs the roots of oxygen, slows their growth, decreases their nutrient absorption and exposes them to root rot.

Improve your soil's water retention with a 3- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch such as pine bark. Spread it from beyond the tree's dripline, where rainwater falls from the outer leaves to the ground, to 1 foot from the tree's trunk. Piling mulch around the trunk traps moisture and invites disease.

Feed with general-purpose, 12-4-8 fertilizer in early spring and July. Give newly planted, 1- to 2-foot trees 1 tablespoon of fertilizer. Increase the amount to 1/4-cup for recently planted, 6-foot trees. Sprinkle the food evenly in a 2-foot circle around the trunks. Excessive fertilizing can kill a young dogwood tree. Give larger, well-established kousas 1 cup of fertilizer for each 1 inch of trunk diameter, measured 4 feet above the soil line. Spread the food beyond the dripline, where rain falls from the outer leaves to the ground.

Prune kousa dogwood after its spring bloom. Remove dead, diseased, insect-infested or broken branches. To prevent disease-encouraging branch wounds, prune crossed or rubbing branches. Thin the canopy, if necessary, to improve its interior air circulation and sun exposure. Use sharp, clean tools appropriate for your dogwood's size. Scissor-action hand pruners are suitable for branches up to 3/4-inch diameter. For limbs between 1/4- and 1 1/2-inches in diameter, use long-handled lopping shears. Larger branches require pruning saws. For canopy pruning on mature trees, use pole pruners.

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Desc: Stunning Spring Display, Edible Fruit and Fall Color

The Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa chinesis) is a deciduous tree with a specialized leaf system (bract), that creates a showy white appearance throughout the summer. This tree would look stunning planted in small groupings along your home or as a focal point in your front yard. Your Dogwood's 4-inch, dark green leaves will appear in spring, but it's in late spring when the real show begins. Pointed bracts of 4-petaled white flowers will appear, giving this tree a unique show-stopping appearance. As an added bonus, 1-inch, round red berries will begin to appear in the summer and be ready for a fall harvest. Sweet and juicy, these berries are a favorite for wine makers, but can also be eaten straight from the tree.

As fall approaches, your Dogwood will transform from green to a vibrant red/burgundy splash of color for your landscape. Even when those leaves have come and gone, your remaining berries will still dangle from the branches, like an early holiday display right in your yard.

The Dogwood has a horizontal branching structure that reaches all the way to the base, forming a natural pyramidal shape. It can reach heights of 15-30 ft and spread to 20 ft wide. This particular Dogwood has a better disease tolerance than many other flowering Dogwoods, and is generally hardy and easy to care for. Deer won't like this tree, but birds certainly will. . .and so will you!


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Tree Health and Disease-Resistant Dogwoods

The key to maintaining the health of your dogwood is to plant it in a suitable location and take proper care of your tree to minimize stress (e.g., water during drought, avoid mulch against the trunk, etc.). Refer to our pages about tree planting and after-planting care. Trees that are stressed due to unsuitable cultural and environmental conditions are more susceptible to diseases and pest problems.

Select disease-resistant dogwood cultivars to reduce the chances of problems with common dogwood diseases. Refer to the table below for recommendations. It is important to note that disease-resistant does not mean immune to disease. Even disease-resistant dogwoods may develop problems if they are planted in an unsuitable environment (full sun, drought, flooding).

Research your selections prior to purchase. Some cultivars exhibit characteristics that may or may not be desirable to you or wildlife (e.g., double flowers, lack of berries).

How to Prune a Dogwood

Last Updated: January 13, 2021 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Steve Masley. Steve Masley has been designing and maintaining organic vegetable gardens in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 30 years. He is a Organic Gardening Consultant and Founder of Grow-It-Organically, a website that teaches clients and students the ins and outs of organic vegetable gardening. In 2007 and 2008, Steve taught the Local Sustainable Agriculture Field Practicum at Stanford University.

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Dogwood trees do not usually need much pruning. Even without manually shaping the tree, a dogwood will usually maintain a nice shape. Manual shaping can be done if desired, though. Do your primary pruning—the removal of branches—during the dormant season and your secondary pruning—cutting done to spur new growth—during the active growing season.

Planting a Kousa Dogwood Tree

Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), also known as Japanese dogwood and Oriental dogwood, is a small ornamental tree that belongs to the genus Cornus and the family Cornaceae. This deciduous tree is a woody perennial with a life span of five to 20 years and is commonly grown for its year-round esthetic value.

Soil and Light

Native to East Asian regions of Korea, China, and Japan, this tree shows hardy growth in USDA zones 5 to 7. While planting it, keep in mind that the plant shows a strong preference for areas that receive full sunlight or partial shade areas. Find a well-drained area that has plenty of moisture and acidic soil. Although these are the ideal conditions for their growth, these trees can grow in compacted, neutral, or alkaline, and dry soils.

Water and Temperature

The kousa dogwood tree has a low requirement for water. Do remember to irrigate it during the dry and hot spells in summer. This is important as the leaves of this tree are highly susceptible to scorching under hot conditions. Watering them sufficiently would help prevent this. An air temperature down to –14°F can be tolerated by this tree.


These trees prefer decomposing mulch to synthetic fertilizers. To promote root growth, avoid the use of nitrogen fertilizers in the first year after transplantation.


Expect the kousa dogwood to bloom anytime between late spring and early summer. The flowering extends over a period of at least 6 weeks. Before flowering, the tree produces red raspberry-like berries. When in bloom, the kousa dogwood foliage gives a show of white, which is actually attributable to its petal-like bracts than to its flowers. This tree is capable of growing to at least a height of 10 feet.


Prepare a seedbed and sow the seeds of dogwood during autumn, or go for stratification in spring. If it is summer, consider rooting of greenwood cuttings.

Seasonal Care

Kousa dogwood is especially sensitive to transplantation during autumn. Therefore, if you wish to transplant during autumn, ensure that you provide the plants with the required kind of soil, fertilize well, and mulch as necessary. To maximize the chances of survival during the first winter, take care to avoid winter salt spray.

Dealing with Disease and Pest Problems

The kousa dogwood is hardy and is affected by no serious diseases or pests. However, occasional cases of wood rot and decays, anthracnose, gray mold, basal rot, root rot, Phytophthora canker, and dogwood anthracnose have been reported.

Rotting and decay of the wood could pose a danger when the rotten structures overhang homes. If you think that rotting has reached a point beyond control, remove the tree as soon as possible.

When anthracnose affects your tree, immediately remove all the affected parts and generously apply fungicides.

To prevent gray mold, use some fungicides to help reduce the chances of leaf, stem, and fruit infections.

Reduce the quantity and frequency of watering and set the drainage right to control basal rot, root rot, and canker successfully.

In the case of dogwood anthracnose, immediately strip your tree of the infected foliage and destroy all the leaves as soon as possible.

Watch the video: Blooming Kousa Dogwood Tree In the Spring.

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