Growing Dogwoods in Pots

Dogwoods do well in pots provided some cultural requirements are taken into consideration in advance of planting. Dogwoods (Cornus florida) can get fairly big for a pot, so its best to choose a smaller variety such as Cherokee Prince (white flower), Cherokee Princess (pink flower) or the white flowering Cornus kousa which, unlike the other two, has the added attraction of mottled bark. All of these would perform well in the appropriately sized pot. 

A well planted dogwood would look fantastic in any corner of the garden with adequate sunlight. Whether you are looking to make it a focal point, want something large to fill in a gap or would like to add some needed height to an otherwise flat area. It would also be a great way to hide that ugly drain pipe, utility meter or air conditioning unit. 

Keep in mind that you are growing a tree in a pot. It’s going to need some special care from you. Most important is water, water, water. Nothing kills a plant quicker than lack of water. Too much water can have the same effect, so it’s a fine balance. We will get back to that when we talk about drainage. Speaking of water, should you decide to use your potted dogwood on a sunny porch, breezeway or balcony it’s not going to be exposed to the rain. On a rainy day, it’s not getting watered.

In any case, check the pot frequently to see that the soil is moist. You should water at least every other day when the tree is actively growing and in the heat of the summer everyday. In the fall you can start withholding moisture as the tree is naturally going into dormancy in advance of winter. However, as we head into winter the soil should be moist and not dry. Dogwoods would probably not be a good choice for a planter unless it was very large, or hanging basket, due to their size. 

Planting Dogwoods in Pots 

The size and choice of container are going to be crucial in your success or failure with your dogwood. You need a container that is at minimum 24 inches wide and 24 inches deep. That is a general rule and will help to insulate the roots in winter. Plastic and fiberglass pots are excellent choices in areas of the country that normally experience below freezing temperatures for extended periods of time and come in a wide variety of sizes and styles. There are some beautiful ceramic pots that are frost resistant but they can be pricey and prone to chipping or cracking over extended periods of exposure to the elements in which case it would probably be wise to inquire at the local nursery as to what would be the best choice for your area. 

Spring or fall would be the optimal time to plant your dogwood tree. In spring you may find a larger assortment of trees than you would later on in the season but a fall planting has the added benefit of possibly finding something on sale and the tree will require less care from you as it is preparing for dormancy. 

A location with a minimum of 6 hours direct sunlight a day is best for buds and flower development. An area where the dogwood would receive dappled sunlight all day would be ideal. 

Best Soil For Dogwoods in Pots 

A large container with ample drainage holes in the base is best for dogwoods. Select a container with a heavy base so the plant will not tip over during storms and high winds. A rich, friable growing medium mixed with compost and peat moss is perfect and something that the home gardener can make themselves. Alternatively, use a high-quality commercial potting soil to pot your dogwood. Adding a top layer of compost or mulch to the soil can help retain moisture, provide some additional nutrients and help to protect the roots in winter. 

Caring For Dogwoods in Planters 

Dogwood trees can do well in pots as long as the particular aforementioned cultural requirements are met. Providing the tree with extra care during the first few years is crucial to help develop a substantial root system and help it acclimate to its new home. Adequate sunlight, water, drainage and nutrients are all key to the success of growing your dogwood in a pot. 

Watering Dogwoods in Pots 

You should water at least every other day when the tree is actively growing and in the heat of the summer everyday. A good rule of thumb is to saturate the soil until you see water running out of the base. In the fall you can start withholding moisture as the tree is naturally going into dormancy in advance of winter. However, as we head into winter the soil should be moist and not dry. 

Fertilizing Dogwoods in Pots 

If you have provided your new dogwood with the soil requirements mentioned here your tree should be fine for the first year in terms of nutrients. In the following years a top dressing of peat moss, a combination of peat moss and cow manure, or a light coating of bark mulch would be of benefit as well as an application of an all purpose, granular fertilizer for acid loving plants. This would best be done in early spring as the tree begins to break its dormancy. Fertilizing and soil amendments help make up for the missing nutrients the tree would naturally find in the soil through its root system had they not been confined to a pot. 

Winter Care For Dogwoods in Pots 

Should the home gardener choose to buy that fancy, ceramic pot instead of something frost proof it would be wise to move the entire pot inside. A cold, but not freezing garage, cellar or enclosed porch would do nicely. Any pot or container made to withstand the freezing temperatures of your area can be left as is. Another option, if the pot is not freeze proof, would be to remove the tree from the pot, plant it in a temporary spot for the winter and bring the pot inside. A little involved and somewhat tedious but it works. 

Sometimes, no matter what we do, a pot or planter cracks due to the elements. We can do our best to minimize this by laying the pot on its side, covering the pot with mulch, making sure the pot is well drained or moving it to the north side of your property where the reliable cold will prevent the planter from freezing and thawing. Remember that your dogwood will need moisture even in the winter. This is especially true in a drier than normal winter season. Check it periodically to see that the medium is still moist and not showing any signs of drying out. Inspect the branches for brittleness or shriveling of the buds, all signs the tree is not getting enough moisture. The success of your potted dogwood depends on you.

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Author Chris Link - Published 04-05-2022