The Case for Kousa Dogwood

Plus Garden To-Do’s for May

By L.A. Jackson

The Case for Kousa Dogwood

Rare are the times I bad-mouth our native dogwoods (Cornus florida), the small trees that bear North Carolina’s state flower, but often you will hear me comparing these indigenous beauties to a popular Far East import, the Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa).

There is certainly no competition intended. Rather than detract attention away from NC’s home‑grown doggies, I see the Kousa as an appealing partner when it comes to creating a satisfying landscape show.

The Kousa’s differences actually make it easier to pair with Cornus florida. For starters, the flowers of this Oriental cutie open weeks later than the common dogwood, meaning gardeners who want to extend their pleasure of enjoying dogwood blooms deep into the spring season can do so by planting both. 

Kousa blossoms also have their own look. The white petals (actually bracts) are stubbier — in an attractive way — and pointed on the ends. In addition, its flowers tend to cluster and flow more, creating pleasant sweeps of blooms made brighter by the tree’s flush backdrop of rich green leaves. 

Handsome berries from Kousa flowers will usually form late in the summer. These large, knobby, red orbs are edible, having a mild apple-like taste, but getting past the bitter skin and through the many seeds makes it tough to enjoy them as a snack. Birds will have at ’em, normally when the berries are past prime and mushy.

One advantage the Kousa dogwood has over its native cousin is disease resistance, especially when it comes to powdery mildew and the dreaded, often-written-about dogwood anthracnose. In the bad bug department, it is also less likely to be bothered by the pesky dogwood borer. 

And although it might sound strange, this import seems to take sizzling rays of our southern summer sun better than the indigenous Cornus florida, but choosing a location that provides at least some shade from the scorch of the afternoon sear will help it to thrive rather than just survive.

The Kousa can stand more sun, but its shallow root system won’t tolerate dry conditions, so mulch should be spread under the tree’s canopy and, when the rains don’t come, be sure to water. 

Of course, you won’t find Kousa dogwoods out in the Carolina wilds, but they certainly will be easy to spot at quality retail plant centers. Being tough, dependable and, yep, pretty, Kousa cultivars are desirable to both nurserymen and backyard gardeners alike!

CC Toad

Toads are more inclined to be land dwellers than their froggy friends.

Garden To-Do’s for May

  • What’s the difference between a frog and a toad? Most frogs will normally have moist-looking, smooth skin, and they need to live near water, while toads sport a dry, bumpy hide and are more inclined to be land dwellers. However, since the two are efficient hunters of such plant pests as beetles, grubs, cutworms, grasshoppers, snails and slugs, both should be considered garden buddies and left alone to patrol the rows and beds during the growing season.
  • Haven’t planted veggies such as lima beans, eggplant, okra, peppers and sweet potatoes yet? Good. These edibles are real heat-lovers, so waiting until May when the spring warmth has really settled into the soil will get them off to faster starts. 
  • A good weed block to combine with organic mulches is a layer of three to four pages of newspaper. Put on the ground first and then covered with mulch, this paper barrier will discourage most weeds for at least one growing season before decomposing.
  • If your house cactus, African violet or amaryllis has become slightly root-bound in its container, don’t re-pot — the cramped quarters will encourage blooming. 
  • Placing a rain gauge in the garden can add more precision to your plant-watering decisions. 

About the Author

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. If you would like to ask him a question about your garden, contact L.A. at: lajackson1@gmail.com

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