What’s Wrong With My Dogwood?

October 3, 2013 | By | Comments (21)

Flowering dogwood is one of our finest native trees for blazing fall foliage. This one grows in Grumpy’s back yard. Photo: Steve Bender

Grumpy loves flowering dogwoods. He thinks that anybody who can grow them and doesn’t has a serious developmental flaw. But sometimes your beautiful dogwood suddenly doesn’t look so pretty anymore. Here are 4 common problems and what to do about them.

Problem #1 — Scorched Leaves


Leaf scorch of flowering dogwood. And it’s my tree! Photo: Steve Bender

Description: One day, your dogwood looks as happy as a Wall Street banker trading on inside information. The next, the leaves turn whitish tan, especially around the edges, and start dropping. This usually happens in mid- to late summer.

Cause: Dogwood has shallow roots and doesn’t like long periods of hot, dry weather. If it dries out even for a single day, the outermost leaves will scorch and stay that way or drop. If this isn’t severe, the tree will recover.

Solution: Put down several inches of mulch around the base of the tree (not touching the trunk). The mulch will cool the soil and help it retain moisture. Check the leaves regularly during hot, dry spells. If you see wilting leaves in morning, water the tree immediately and thoroughly.

Problem #2 — Leaf Spots


Spot anthracnose on dogwood leaf. Photo: MA Hansen, Bugwood.org

Description: Small, brownish purple spots with tan centers dot the leaves. This most often occurs to dogwoods growing under tall trees following a spell of rainy weather in summer. Diseased leaves dry and hang on through winter. Cankers forming on the twigs can eventually girdle and kill branches or the entire tree.

Cause: Spot anthracnose is a fungal disease that targets dogwoods. It spreads via water splashing the spores from leaf to leaf. It’s more of a problem for understory trees than trees growing out in the open.

Solution: Remove and diseased branches and leaves and throw them out with the trash. Spray healthy spring flowers and foliage according to label directions with Daconil. Repeat as soon as you see any spots appear on leaves. Also plant resistant dogwood selections, such as ‘Appalachian Spring.’

Problem #3 — Powdery Mildew


Powdery mildew on dogwood leaves. Photo: J Hartman, Bugwood.org

Description: A whitish film spreads on leaves. Affected leaves may shrivel and drop.

Cause: Powdery mildew is a fungus. There are lots of different kinds of mildew that attack lots of different plants. This particular mildew likes dogwoods. I find it generally shows up later in the growing season, usually on the newest leaves, but I have seen it in early summer too. Like spot anthracnose, it prefers trees growing in groups under tall trees. It also likes cool, rainy weather.

Solution: If it shows up in late summer, let it go. It won’t do enough damage to hurt the tree. If it appears in early summer, consider spraying according to label directions with neem oil, horticultural oil, or Natria Disease Control.

Problem #4 — No Blooms Like These


‘Cherokee Brave’ flowering dogwood. Soon appearing in Grumpy’s front yard. Photo: waysidegardens.com

Description — Your dogwood grows just fine with lots of healthy, green leaves. Just no blooms.

Causes: The most common causes for dogwood not blooming are: not enough sun (tree grows in shade, but won’t bloom well there); tree dried out in summer and didn’t set flower buds; tree is too young to bloom; instead of being a named selection like ‘Cherokee Brave’ (above), tree is labeled just “white” or “pink” and could bloom heavily or hardly at all.

Solutions: Give flowering dogwood at least a half-day of sun with light shade in the afternoon. Water tree during summer droughts. Buy named selections chosen for their outstanding displays rather than unnamed trees that could do anything.


  1. Steve Bender

    If your dogwood hasn’t leafed out by now, it’s dead. It’s not a good choice for coastal Mississippi. The climate and soil don’t agree with it. I try would a Southern magnolia, chaste tree, or fringe tree instead.

    This sounds like spot anthracnose. Follow the recommendations under the photo above.

    May 13, 2017 at 2:48 pm
  2. Bernadette

    My dogwood started to bloom the flowers got brown and we don’t have any leaves coming in. I have had this tree for 19 years and never had this problem. The limbs are still alive cause they don’t break and are still green inside. What could be wrong and what can I do?

    May 3, 2017 at 2:27 pm
  3. Venice Loyd

    I live on the coast in ms. my dogwood I planted last year did fine. but this yer it is still alive but has not bloomed and has not put out leaves. It is in full sun but i keep it watered. what is wrong. It is April 22

    April 22, 2017 at 1:12 pm
  4. Steve Bender

    Leaf scorch on dogwood is caused by heat and drought. Dogwood is a shallow-rooted tree that doesn’t take drought very well. So you need to water it regularly in summer and give it some afternoon shade. It also likes acid soil, which you don’t have in Ft. Worth. I think you’d be better off growing a tree better adapted to your area, such as ‘Oklahoma’ redbud, crepe myrtle, chaste tree, and flowering cherry.

    October 20, 2016 at 8:23 am
  5. Bryan

    I live in the Fort Worth Texas Area on my dogwood tree leaves are completely brown I tried everything I know please can someone help me put some advice how to make my tree stay alive

    October 16, 2016 at 10:23 am
  6. Al Mathis

    My Cherokee dogwood has finally dropped the last leaf and stand limply and stark bare.
    I will try again next year – hopefully.
    Al Mathis

    July 31, 2016 at 7:26 pm
  7. Grumpy Gardener

    I’m betting it’s the hot, dry weather. Dogwood has shallow roots, so you need to really soak the roots a couple of times a week in weather like this.

    July 27, 2016 at 10:49 am
  8. Judy

    my little dogwood did so will than now leaves are dry and dropping.
    it is hot right now here in ohio.
    it gets some morning sun and it gets evening sun.
    I have water it everyday.
    is this a fungus….or ?

    July 22, 2016 at 6:47 am
  9. Al Mathis

    I have given up hope of recovery for my Cherokee – the leafs continue to darken and there are not many left on the tree. Lots of rain and wind lately. I just do not have hope for the tree.

    July 15, 2016 at 6:45 pm
  10. Steve Bender


    Have to say this, but a tree that’s holding brown leaves in summer is either dead or will be shortly.


    Leaf scorch can result from just one day of drying out. Fungicide will not help. Make sure that when you water, water gets all the way down to the roots and doesn’t just wet the surface.

    July 6, 2016 at 4:04 pm
  11. Minnie

    We have a balled – and-burlapped dogwood that was planted in April and the leaves came out nice and green at first, then started wilting and turning brown but not dropping from the tree. We are now in July and the brown leaves are still on the tree and when I try to bend the branch it is not breaking just bending. I’m concerned because the leaves have not dropped and I’ve been told that is when you know a tree is dead. Any suggestions?

    July 2, 2016 at 8:32 am
  12. Al Mathis

    I need additional help with my Cherokee dogwood. The tree is about 3 weeks in the ground and has developed scorched leaf. I initially fertilized the tree and not until the scorched leafs appeared did I start using daconil to no avail – I have started using Superthrive vitamin solution every 2 weeks and I water by drip for 1 hour and no more.
    It has rained a lot and but a lot of water on the 5′ tall tree. I dont know what to do.
    I need help. Thank You.

    June 30, 2016 at 3:50 pm
  13. Grumpy Gardener


    I think the problem is that you planted balled-and-burlapped trees. When these trees are dug from the ground by the grower, much of the root system is left behind. That’s why I prefer to buy dogwoods growing in containers. You don’t lose any of the roots in transplanting and you can inspect the root system before planting.

    May 24, 2016 at 1:42 pm
  14. Nancy Schilreff

    I planted 3 new dogwood trees in my yard in February. ONeedless of the trees has lost nearly all of its’ leaves and its’limbs have drawn up tightly toward the trunk. Another dogwood’s leaves are very wilted and shrivelled-up, as if it didn’the have ample watering. I have a sprinkler system that waters our yard 3 nights a week. What is wrong with my dogwoods? Also, we discovered that they were originally planted in the non-biodegradable hard burlap bag with the wires around it! We had them replanted as soon as we discovered this. Could that have caused my trees to lose their leaves, in this manner? Can my trees be saved? What can I do? Thank you for your advice.

    May 22, 2016 at 11:45 am
  15. Grumpy Gardener


    I’m guessing the cause is spot anthracnose. You’ll need to spray healthy spring flowers and leaves with Daconil according to label directions. Repeat as soon as you see any new spots on the leaves.

    April 1, 2016 at 10:37 am
  16. Bob Horne

    We have several old dogwoods that have always bloomed nicely. This year two have flowers that haven’t opened. They are there and appear to be fully developed, they just haven’t opened, while flowers on the others have been open several days. What to do?

    March 30, 2016 at 9:08 am
  17. Irene lukas

    Just had 2 dogwoods planted this spring, the flowers were beautiful, they had a 3 inch trunk but now one tree leaves are turning red and brown and falling off, I have watered them, but don’t know waht else to do.

    July 19, 2015 at 2:57 pm
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  19. Steve Bender


    Sorry about your trees. Borers can be a serious pest. As you’ve noticed, they usually attack dogwoods weakened by stress.

    October 11, 2013 at 3:20 pm
  20. Glenda

    Oklahoma. We lost 10 dogwood trees this past year. They were mature trees who had bloomed beautifully for years, watered through periods of drought. But the last prolonged drought and searing heat was doom for them, despite attempts at keeping them watered. The culprit that was the finale was the borers who hit once the trees were weak. Dogwood borers damage many trees in localized areas in a short period of time. Typically, trees will be stressed to begin with. The larvae germinate from eggs laid by moths and the young borers feed underneath the bark on the phloem and cambium tissue. Symptoms of borer infestation include reduced vigor and smaller blooms along with localized limb death. You should be able to see small holes in the bark where sawdust-like frass emerges. Dogwoods in sun get much more borer damage than dogwoods that are in shade all day. Control is difficult and the moths responsible are rarely seen. I first read about what was killing the trees in the Norman, Oklahoma newspaper .. and part of this comment came from statebystategardening.com.

    October 6, 2013 at 5:16 pm
  21. home, garden, life

    And don’t ever let dogwood seeds volunteer, as those specimens will be awful.

    October 4, 2013 at 1:46 pm

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