Pruning Dogwood Trees – When and How

Dogwood trees are a flowering tree that blooms in springtime, often coinciding with Easter. Dogwood trees typically stay small, only growing between 15 and 40 total feet, with small branches and a small trunk.

Dogwood trees are dependable. You can count on them to bloom every year with several hundred flowers. Dogwood trees can be either pink or white, with both adding a beautiful display of color to any architectural landscape.

While a flowering dogwood tree is reliable in producing blooms each year, it should still be pruned. Pruning dogwood trees will produce more flowering blooms in the following year, giving you a fuller and healthier tree.

Pruning a dogwood tree is a little different than you might imagine. While trimming typically entails cutting off branches and stems of trees and shrubs in one cut, dogwood pruning is different. Dogwood pruning means the branches will have cuts made throughout the branches before the branch is completely removed.

Cutting these branches in this manner will keep the dogwood tree from tearing, as this can cause permanent harm to the tree and keep it from blooming the following year.

Always completely remove dead or diseased dogwood tree limbs. You can follow the same cutting method if you feel like the branch may still be alive. If the branch is completely dead, using a bypass pruning tool, you can make one solid cut right after the collar.

To prune dead branches or make cuts to the dogwood tree, you will need a good pair of pruning shears, these tools will cut through the dead wood as well as make cuts in the branches that need rejuvenating.

When to Prune a Dogwood Tree

Like many flowering trees and shrubs, the best time to prune a dogwood tree is when the tree is dormant. For the dogwood tree, this is in the late fall and winter. However, as we mentioned, there are two types of pruning: completely removing dead or diseased branches to keep the tree healthy or trimming old blooms to promote new growth and flowering.

When trimming the dogwood tree to remove dead or diseased branches, you will want to prune in late fall or winter. Doing this will decrease the number of insects that can invade the tree if it were pruned in this manner during the spring and summer months. Additionally, pruning in fall or winter while the tree is dormant will reduce the amount of sap that is produced when the tree is cut.

Snipping off old buds on the dogwood tree to promote new growth and flowering should take place during the summer, preferably in June. Waiting any later than June, especially during the dormant months, will likely keep the dogwood tree from blooming the following year. Making cuts and snipping off buds in June will promote the most regrowth and rejuvenation for the following season.

Dogwood shrubs do not require yearly pruning, but occasional trimming should take place. This should occur every third or fourth year. Dogwood trees rarely get leggy or overgrown, and their shape is usually well-kempt. However, pruning a dogwood tree will help the flowers of the tree bloom more abundantly the following season.

When routinely pruning dogwood branches, you should choose the branches that have pale and discolored stems. These stems are using energy from the tree to produce lackluster flowers when the energy could be going to other areas in the tree.

It is also a good idea to prune a dogwood tree when disease or insect infestation is apparent. Trimming back the branches of diseased or infested branches of the dogwood tree will help get rid of branches that have become sick or infested with insects.

How to Prune a Dogwood Tree

As we mentioned in our introduction, pruning a dogwood tree often includes making cuts to the branches as opposed to cutting them off completely, depending on the type of pruning you need to do.

During the winter months when the dogwood tree has become dormant is when you should cut off dead or diseased branches. To do this, you will need to locate these branches and remove them completely from the tree.

If trimming the dogwood tree for rejuvenation and regrowth, you will take your shears to remove the flower buds and make cuts to certain branches of the tree. Removing a flower bud will redirect energy that would otherwise be going to the bud. This causes the energy to go into other surrounding buds to create fuller and more colorful flowers.

You shouldn’t snip every flower bud that is present on the dogwood; however, snipping just one flower bud on each branch will cause the surrounding buds to become fuller and more colorful for the following season.

Once you have snipped the flower buds, you are now ready to make cuts to the branches to finish the trimming for regrowth.

First, you will take your pruning shears and make a cut on the underside of the branch you want to help regrow. You should make this cut about one foot away from the trunk of the tree, and the cut should go about halfway through the branch.

Next, you will switch to the top side of the branch and make another cut about 3 to 5 inches out from the cut you made on the bottom side. This cut should be made completely through the branch, and you should pull off the branch as soon as it begins to separate from the base.

Last, you will need to look at the dogwood tree and find swelled areas on the branches you plan to cut. These swelled areas are known as the branch collars. Branch collars are located at the joint between the primary branch you are cutting and the dogwoods trunk. Once you have located the branch collars, you will need to make your cut.

Make this final cut about an inch or two from where the swelling on the branch begins. Do not cut through the collar. Cutting through the collar will cause the dogwood to become infected and can permanently damage the tree. Instead, move out on the branch you are cutting about 1 or 2 inches from the collar of the branch to make your final cut.

Cut through the branch so that you have made a complete and clean cut to remove the stub. This will promote new growth and direct the energy of the dogwood to make fuller and brighter blooms.

What Tools to Use For Pruning Dogwood Trees

You can prune dogwoods with pruning shears that have a wide enough head to cut through the diameter of larger limbs. Oftentimes, pruning shears are big enough for the job.

If you don’t have a pair pruning shears or the pruning shears do have are not big enough to work their way through bigger limbs, you can use a hand saw to carry out the cutting.

The result of the shears and the hand saw will be the same. Both have the potential to cause the bark of the branches where the cuts are made to tear, so you will want to make sure you avoid this by following our pruning method.

Making cuts on the branch will help the branch weaken before it is removed from the tree. If you were to cut the entire limb off above the collar without making cuts, the branch would be so heavy that it would cause the stub of the branch to tear. You do not want this.

Tearing the stub of the branch at the collar will cause the branch to compartmentalize the wound and likely not mesh with the remainder of the tree, which is the opposite effect you want your pruning to have. In addition, a limb that has been severed incorrectly at the branch collar can cause disease and pests to invade and damage the tree permanently.

Use pruners or a hand saw that has been sharpened. Dull pruners or saws can create tears in the branches even as you follow each step of the pruning method. Essentially, you could be doing everything right and still end up with tears simply because the pruners or hand saw you used was too dull for the job.

Clean cuts made by sharp pruners or a saw will help you safely remove the large and sometimes heavy branches from the dogwood without causing damage by tearing. Besides, using a dull pruner or saw will make the pruning job more difficult. You will likely get tired quickly when trying to make several cuts on many large branches of your specimen, causing you to rush the job or finish the job too quickly.

For these reasons, you will need to make sure the pruners or hand saw is sharp enough to make clean cuts and keep you from tiring.

Other Dogwood Bush Pruning Tips

When you see new growth on your tree, that means that energy from the tree has been directed to those areas with the new growth. Oftentimes, new growth can be seen near the base of the tree. These are called suckers, and they require removal as they are taking away energy from the tree that could be going to other parts of the tree.

You should also look for limbs that are rubbing together. Crossing branches that rub together can cause insects, like the dogwood borer, to bore inside them. This can weaken both the branch and the tree, which can require the tree to need severe pruning.

You should also remove any low-lying limbs that make it difficult to walk or mow underneath. Trim these in the same manner and the same time of year as you would remove old or dead wood.

Conclusion on Trimming a Dogwood Tree

Pruning a dogwood tree is not something that needs to happen each year. Shrubby dogwoods grow quickly and easily with little guidance. However, it is not uncommon for a dogwood tree to need a little TLC to grow bigger and fuller than before.

If snipping off old blooms, you should do this in late spring or early summer, no later than June.

If trimming back old wood or low-lying branches, make sure you use a sharp pair of pruners, or a hand saw to make clean cuts to keep the branch from tearing.

Pruning will not be required every year, but you should look at your dogwood tree every third or fourth year to see if there is any area that you can prune to make next year’s blossoms better than before.

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