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Cornus kousa – My Only Quibble with Kousa Dogwood

It’s a week or so past prime dogwood and azalea time in the gardens and landscapes of Georgia. As I wrote in a recent article on the Stellar Pink dogwood, we see lots of dogwoods around here. Some years ago, I went looking for a dogwood for our own garden. I have always been a fan of kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa). Now we have a mature Kousa dogwood.

Kousa dogwood leafs out very late in spring.

It leafs out so late in fact, that I have people ask me what’s wrong with the dogwood. Everything, and I mean everything, in the garden has leafed out while the Kousa dogwood takes its merry time joining the party.

Japanese dogwood leaves
So deliberate in spring…

The primary visual difference between kousa dogwood and our own native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is the flowers appear on kousa dogwood after the leaves. The growth habits of the trees are similar, both in size and form. Kousa dogwood flowers a month later than the native dogwood, thereby extending the season of dogwood blooms.

What I love most about kousa dogwood is the quality of the leaves. Flowering dogwood has beautiful wine colored fall foliage, I’ll grant you that. The leaves of the flowering dogwood during summer are a mild green that is mundane to my eyes. The leaves of the kousa dogwood are a lustrous dark green, making it a more beautiful tree in my estimation. There is no shortage of flowering dogwoods in the south. Why not shake things up a little?

For those who choose native plants exclusively, Cornus florida is the choice. Pink flowering dogwood is a good native selection outside the norm.

In the photograph at the top of this page, the kousa dogwood’s leaves have been out for one day. Two days ago there were swollen leaf buds and nothing more. The out of focus bits in the background are plants that have been leafed out for weeks. Hosta Sum and Substance, a Japanese maple, autumn ferns, English boxwood, a dixie fern, and even a Ryan Gainey hydrangea are in the background…all at peak growth.

In recent days I have been pitting Japanese dogwood against the crape myrtles around town to see which of this laggardly duo would leaf out first (the crape myrtles won by a nose). There is a two-three week period each spring where it looks like we have a dead tree in the front garden…just the kousa dogwood dawdling along.

Would I plant kousa dogwood in the garden if I had to make the choice over again? Sure…it’s only a quibble after all.

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