Garden Advice

When to Prune Dogwood?

The Cornus, known to most people as dogwood, is a popular species of ornamental trees and shrubs. And like all trees and shrubs, these need proper pruning. Knowing not only how, but also when to prune your dogwood is equally important.

So if you:

  • Have a rather large dogwood tree, which has become too overgrown and is taking over the garden;
  • Have read conflicting information on when the best time to prune your dogwood is;
  • See that some of the leaves have started to dry off around the edges. And you wonder whether it’s because of your pruning methods or bad timing.

Then, read along and learn when to prune dogwood…

When to prune dogwood?

The key is to prune your dogwood tree outside the active growth season when the tree is dormant. The dogwood tree drops its leaves in late autumn, so the best time to prune it is between late autumn and winter. During that time, all the tree’s resources reside within the root and will be used to boost regrowth. It’s also much easier to see the branches and get a better idea of the tree shape, while it has no leaves.

On the other hand, If you prune the tree during the growing season, the resources will be lost. During this period, the tree resources are in the leaves, so when you prune them, it will lead to weaker growth. Also, if you do the pruning in the spring, insects, such as the dogwood borer may find their way into the tree via the pruning cuts. The wounds will also bleed a lot of sap, making the tree messy and sticky.

Why prune your dogwood trees and shrubs at all?

Dogwood doesn’t require routine pruning. However, there are circumstances when it becomes necessary.

  • Colourful stems – The dogwood shrub will produce more colourful stems when pruned vigorously. These look appealing, especially during winter.
  • Tree health – pruning promotes light penetration and better airflow. Also, you decrease the chance of any spread of disease by removing decaying or dead branches and stems.

If the reason for pruning is that you want to get colourful stems, you should know that your shrub should be at least two years old. Hard pruning is not suitable for shrubs below this age.

How to prune a dogwood tree

Now that you know when, you also need to know how to prune your dogwood tree:

  1. Cut carefully – branches larger than 5cm in diameter that break away can tear down the trunk. That’s why you need to make 3 cuts to prevent tearing. Make the first cut on the underside of the branch about 15 to 30 centimetres out from the tree trunk and only cut one-third of the way through the branch. Make the second cut about 3 centimetres beyond the first one and cut completely through the branch. The third cut you need to make at the collar of the branch to remove the stub.
  2. Cut at the collar – The collar is the folded bark tissue around the base of each branch. It is chemical and energy-rich and facilitates fast wound closure, so decay wouldn’t happen in the cut area. Always cut at the collar whenever you see a dead, damaged and diseased branch. 
  3. Open up the canopy – check for any crowded areas on your tree and thin them with your shears. Also, never leave two or more branches crossing and rubbing together. When they rub, they create wounds that will be exploited by insects and diseases. A canopy cleared out of undesired twigs and branches has better air circulation, as well.

Ensure your garden shears are sterilised when cutting off diseased branches. To sterilise them, dip them into a solution of one part bleach and three parts water. This will stop the shears from accidentally spreading disease to other branches.

How to prune dogwood shrubs

Generally, Cornus bushes require very little maintenance, however, proper pruning is recommended when you want to encourage the growth of new stems for colour. Late March to early April is the right time to do it, as that’s when new growth is just starting. Also, get yourself a sharp pair of secateurs and a set of loppers for thicker stems.

  1. Cut off old stems – dark brown and thick stems will never produce bright colours because they’re too old. That’s why you need to get them out of the way.
  2. Cut diseased and damaged wood – like you will with your tree, in this case, you need to do the same with your dogwood shrub. Also, cut any crossing stems.
  3. Cut off stems located near the soil – cut them above the first leaf node and this will completely renew the shrub.

Hire professional tree surgeons

If you feel this task is slightly above your skill level, then do not hesitate to hire professionals tree pruning services. Fantastic Services works with experienced, fully equipped and licensed arborists. They will trim your dogwood tree regardless of its age in a safe manner, removing all the unnecessary branches and leaving room so the healthy ones can grow and flourish.

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  • The best time to prune your dogwood tree is when it’s dormant between late autumn and winter.
  • You should prune your dogwood tree to stimulate growth and to keep it healthy.
  • When cutting, always use sharp tools, so you wouldn’t damage the area you are pruning.


Do you have something to add about pruning dogwood trees and shrubs? Leave us a comment!

Images source: Shutterstock / Virunja; Shutterstock / John B Hewitt

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