Dogwood Tree Fertilizer – How, When, and Why to Fertilize

There are over 60 dogwood species available on the current market, so it makes sense that there is a shrub or tree to accommodate all tastes, space available, and soil types. As a bonus, keeping them healthy and thriving is easy if you have the right dogwood tree fertilizer. The ever-changing nature of the dogwood tree or shrub means that it is capable of bringing interest to your garden or landscape design throughout each season.

Dogwood comes from the Cornus genus, and it is available in several sizes and shapes from low creeping bushes to huge trees. Depending on the cultivar you want, the flowering ones can bloom in shades of pink, white, or red in late spring, throughout the summer, or in the winter months. Others have stunning foliage or berries that make them stand out, and virtually all of them bring drama to a winter garden with vivid red branches. Whichever cultivar you prefer, we’ll help you figure out the perfect dogwood tree fertilizer, when you need to apply it, and more.

1 Dogwood Tree in Bloom
Dogwood trees produce huge amounts of bloom in the spring, and applying a dogwood tree fertilizer is one way to help encourage healthy growth and huge amounts of blooms.

Understanding the Dogwood’s Preferred Habitat

In the wild, dogwood trees grow under a canopy of other trees that give them protection from wind so they don’t dry out, shade, and leaf litter each autumn. The leaves make a natural mulch to help suppress weeds so they don’t compete for nutrients, and they help to keep the shallow root system moist and provide it with a natural fertilizer and slightly acidic soil as they break down.

When you bring your tree home and plant it, you should spread a three to four-inch layer of organic mulch around your tree, making sure you extend it eight feet around the base. Leave a bare ring four inches from the tree trunk so you don’t smother the bark as this can cause it to rot.

If you plan to make your tree a specimen in the lawn, this mulch ring is extremely important so the roots don’t compete with your lawn for water and nutrients. It also reduces the risks of damaging the trunk of the tree with a string trimmer or mower. The mulch will also provide a natural dogwood tree fertilizer as it breaks down.

Establishing Your Dogwood Tree

Adding too much dogwood tree fertilizer can kill your young trees, so you want to encourage root growth by avoiding adding nitrogen in the first year. Let your tree find a natural balance without any chemical fertilizers for a year or you can accidentally overstimulate the leaf growth at the expense of the flowers and roots. Before you plant the tree, check that you have a spot that drains well. Fill the planting hole with water, wait 10 minutes, and see it if drained. If it hasn’t, pick another spot. Keep your tree well-watered in dry conditions during the first summer, but remember that they don’t like soggy roots.

Picking the Best Dogwood Tree Fertilizer Type

One thing that every dogwood variety has in common, no matter if you have a shrub or a tree, is their preference for a well-prepared soil when you first plant them with regular nutrient doses as they mature. So, just as you took your time to pick out a dogwood cultivar that suited your space, you must also have space in your garden shed for the correct dogwood tree fertilizer to ensure that the specimen you picked out looks as good as it can as it goes through seasonal changes all year-round.

Commercial Organic Fertilizer

Dry or liquid organic fertilizers are gentle formulas that will feed both the dogwood tree and the surrounding soil over time, but they’re made up of natural ingredients. Pick and organic fertilizer that is for acid-loving plants that has several of the following mixed into the formula: bone meal, blood meal, fish bone and emulsion, earthworm castings, beneficial microbes, magnesium, feather meal, poultry manure, potash, alfalfa meal, cocoa meal, and greenseed. Look for an organic commercial-grade fertilizer that has a guaranteed analysis of 4-5-4 or 4-3-4.

Granular vs Liquid Fertilizer

You’ll have to refer to the manufacturer’s instructions when you apply this dogwood tree fertilizer. However, generally speaking, granular feeds will usually have to get sprinkled directly on the ground around the tree’s base and then diluted in water or watered in before you apply them. The formula ends up in the soil and the roots will gradually absorb it over time. This is the most economical type of dogwood tree fertilizer you can get, but it has a higher risk for root burn if you overuse it. So, you should always check the amount of space you need to cover vs the quantities before you apply it.

Granules have a slow-release option, and this will give you results that you can see within a few short weeks. A granular formula will give you tree nutrients in the soil around your shrubs or trees as well as to the root system with results you can see for up to nine months on a single application.

Liquid fertilizers will start working almost immediately by releasing the nutrients into the soil, and then the root system can quickly absorb it. If your trees or shrubs aren’t doing well and need a quick boost, liquid feeds are a great option.

2 Manure Fertilizer
Liquid fertilizer is a popular option if you have a few trees to fertilize at once, and you can get them premixed to ensure you don’t apply too much.

Granules or Powder

You’ll have to dilute virtually all fertilizer granules with water before you apply them to the area you wish to cover. A good shake or stir of the container with this dogwood tree fertilizer will usually be enough to dissolve the granulas. However, the granule option does give you the risk of having undissolved granules getting stuck in your sprayer nozzle. You can usually flush them out with water without a huge amount of trouble.

Some powder and granule formulas can get sprinkled right onto the area you need to cover. You can do this by hand or with a spread, depending on the size of the space. Powders, when you have to dilute them, tend to dissolve much better. Again, you want to read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you get the correct quantity. These formulas will need water to activate.

Liquid Concentrate or Spray

Liquid dogwood tree fertilizers can come in a concentrated formula that you’ll need to dilute with water, or they’ll be ready to use right from the bottle and come pre-mixed. They are very similar to the granular fertilizers, and it’s essential that you read the instructions to avoid overfertilizing your tree with some too-heavy concentrations as they can lead to root burn very quickly.

Depending on the area you want to treat, liquid formulas can be decanted into a backpack or handheld sprayer or used right from the nozzle from the container you buy it in. A lot of popular brands now come outfitted with fancy attachments and nozzles that make applying it far less messy. Liquid dogwood tree fertilizers do tend to be much more expensive and don’t offer as much coverage as granules do.

Organic Soil Amendments

Mature dogwoods don’t require any fertilizer when you grow them in nutrient-rich soils. As an alternative to adding dogwood tree fertilizers, you can choose to top dress the soil every year with a decent amount of high-quality compost and livestock manure that is well-aged. When you spread it under the tree, start with a few inches out from the trunk up to a foot past the canopy’s drip line. Your material will slowly break down and feed the root system. This annual nutrient boost will gently feed your tree and you don’t have to risk overfeeding it.

Slow Release Fertilizers

Slow release chemical-based fertilizers with a guaranteed analysis of 12-4-8 or 3-1-12 are the best dogwood tree fertilizers. A complete granular fertilizer will give your tree a high amount of nitrogen to drive canopy growth along with sufficient phosphorus and potassium to encourage root growth and a larger amount of flowers. The grains will slowly break down in the soil over time with watering and never burn your root system.


Many gardeners are big fans of fertilizer spikes, especially when it comes to dogwood tree fertilizers. They offer a decently mess-free and easy method to apply fertilizer, and they come pre-measured. All you have to do is hammer or push them into the ground around your shrubs or trees. Once you water them, they continue to give your trees a slow-release of nutrients for six to nine months.

This dogwood tree fertilizer option falls into a higher price bracket, especially if you have a number of shrubs or trees you need to feed. This is because you’ll need to have several spikes per tree or shrub to cover your necessary space.

Dogwood Tree And Shrub Fertilizer N-P-K Ratio

N-P-K is an acronym that gets used to describe fertilizer’s macronutrient makeup. Each letter is an abbreviation of a specific macronutrient, and N stands for Nitrogen, P for Phosphorus, and K for potassium.

Almost every fertilizer package will give you the percentage of these macronutrients that the specific formula contains. For example, if you pick out a dogwood tree formula with an N-P-K ratio of 10-10-10, the formula offers 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, and 10% potassium. These macronutrients are vital for the longevity, growth, and health of your tree or shrub, but their importance level will vary from one species to another.

  • (N) – Nitrogen is something plants use to produce leafy growth and foliage. Generally speaking, deciduous plants benefit from higher levels of nitrogen during the growing season or in the spring.
  • (P) – Phosphorus is a nutrient your trees and shrubs need to encourage healthy roots, and it’s also essential when it comes to seed and fruit production.
  • (K) – Potassium is used by plants to produce fruits and flowers, so it’s great for any flowering dogwood variety like Cornus Aurora or Cornus Florida.

3 NPK Ratio
Knowing the N-P-K ratio in your fertilizer helps to ensure that you get the best mix of ingredients to encourage flower production and strong root growth.

12-4-8 Fertilizer

Dogwood trees grow very well when you apply a 12-4-8 fertilizer. The level of nitrogen, laid out by the first number, tells this element’s importance to the tree. Nitrogen gives your dogwood the basic structure for chlorophyll, and this is the pigment necessary for the leaves to photosynthesize. Although they’re also important, both potassium and phosphorus are in lower ratio amounts compared to nitrogen. Phosphorus helps boost your tree’s energy levels using adenosine triphosphate, and potassium is key to helping with cell division to encourage strong growth.

16-4-8 Fertilizer

For gardeners who have nitrogen-deficient soil, applying a 16-4-8 dogwood tree fertilizer will keep your tree or shrub healthy. Lower nitrogen levels will quickly become apparent in the form of light green leaves and stunted growth. Using a fertilizer that has the same potassium and phosphorus levels, along with higher nitrogen content, gives your tree extra nutrients for better photosynthesis.

How To Fertilize Dogwoods – Step-By-Step

Dogwood shrubs or trees aren’t heavy feeders, but this isn’t to say they never need a nutrient boost to encourage healthy root growth and new growth from year to year. You should always wait a minimum of one season before you start applying dogwood tree fertilizers. This allows your trees or shrubs to get established, and the nutrient levels in the soil will be enough to feed them during this tender growth stage.

A slow-release fertilizer that you gently work into the soil at the start of the growing season is the best option. You want to administer it in the right quantities at the base of your shrub or tree and up to the dripline on the canopy. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when it comes to dilution terms and the amounts you need to apply in relation to your tree or shrub size. It’s extremely important to get this right to avoid overfeeding the plant and also for activating the active ingredients in the fertilizer formula because administering it incorrectly or misjudging the amount can lead to killing or severely damaging your dogwood.

Along with applying dogwood tree fertilizer annually, it’s also a good idea to add a layer of mulch around your shrub or tree. You can do this in the fall instead of applying a second dose of fertilizer. In fact, fertilizing your dogwood during the fall months can stimulate new growth that will die when the winter frosts hit it, and this can do more harm than good.

Where To Spread The Fertilizer

Where you spread your dogwood tree fertilizer will depend on your tree’s age and where it is in the growth cycle. We divided this into three broad categories, and you can use the one that applies to your tree or shrub.

Established Trees

The root system your established dogwood has can extend several feet deep into the soil, but most of the feeder roots that are responsible for absorbing nutrients are located in the top foot of the soil. Spreading your fertilizer on the soil’s surface is enough to reach these shallow feeder roots. Spread your fertilizer of choice around the tree, starting a minimum of a foot from the trunk and working out to just beyond the drip line of the canopy. Ideally, you want to go out to three to five feet beyond the drip line.

New Trees

At planting time, you want to take steps to stimulate early root formation and stronger root development, and you can do this by watering your new dogwood with a root stimulator solution. This helps to reduce transplant shock and promote more vigorous, greener plants. You can also easily apply a granular slow-release dogwood tree fertilizer to the soil’s surface at half the recommended dose the label instructs.

Potted Trees

When you feed your potted trees or shrubs, you want to use a fertilizer that is geared toward potted plants. Make sure you read the instructions and follow the dosing instructions carefully.

4 Potted Trees
Potted plants may require more fertilizer as the soil will quickly deplete of nutrients and it won’t be able to pull more from the ground.

When To Fertilize Dogwood Trees & Shrubs

You want to aim to fertilize your dogwood in the spring right at the start of the growing season and again after the last frost before summer kicks into swing. Using a slow-release fertilizer will reduce the risk of burning the tree or shrub roots and continue to feed your tree or shrub for six to nine months after you apply it.

Other than this, you shouldn’t fertilize at any other time during the year unless you see that your tree or shrub isn’t performing well and it needs some additional care and attention because this can lead to over-fertilization. Also, fertilizing your dogwood at the end of the growing season into the fall months can stimulate new growth that the first frost of the season and winter weather can damage. Thai can slow down the growth for the following spring growing season.

How Often To Apply Dogwood Tree Fertilizer

Dogwoods aren’t extremely heavy feeders, and they won’t do well if you need them too often. An annual boost of your chosen dogwood tree fertilizer in the spring should be more than enough to keep it healthy, happy, and thriving until the winter months when it goes dormant.

Soil Ph Levels for Dogwoods

When it comes to the pH levels in the soil, dogwood is slightly more picky as they ideally prefer to be in acidic soil that borders on alkaline, and the pH levels fall between 5.0 and 7.0. Testing the pH levels in your soil before you plant your tree or shrub is a good idea, and you can get a soil test kit to pull it off.

Adjusting the pH levels in the soil is straightforward enough, but it may take time to make a difference in your soil’s composition. We recommend adding wood ash or lime to increase the alkaline levels and raise the pH levels. Lime is the most readily-available ingredient you can get, and you can buy it in liquid, powder, or pellet form with the pellets taking longer to break down and start working.

Lowing the pH levels in the soil will make the soil more acidic, and you can do this by adding a layer of mulch in the form of rotting leaves and adding compost to your soil to ensure that it’s very rich. There are several fertilizer products that are loaded with micro and macronutrients that you can use to give your soil a boost without damaging the roots too. Soil that is naturally acidic tends to have issues with keeping potassium, magnesium, and calcium up.
5 Soil Testing
Testing your soil is as easy as buying a kit online and performing the test yourself, or you can take a soil sample to your local agricultural branch and have them test it.

Getting Better Dogwood Flowers

There are several things you can do to encourage your dogwood tree or shrub to bloom and reach its full potential. After all, the flowers and the spectacular show it puts on are some of the main reasons why people choose dogwood trees or shrubs in the first place. Making a few small adjustments here and there won’t take up large amounts of your time or cost you a huge amount of money. A few tips and hints to make sure you get the best flower production possible include:

  • Fertilizer – If you find your tree or shrub isn’t producing enough flowers, we recommend you add a balanced fertilizer or one that has slightly higher amounts of potassium and phosphorus in comparison to nitrogen. Nitrogen is important to all plants, but too much nitrogen can actually prevent your dogwood from blooming. Potassium and phosphorus, on the other hand, will encourage abundant flower production and healthy root systems.
  • Location – Finding the correct place to plant your dogwood will make the difference between it falling short or blooming gloriously. Dogwood naturally grows at the edge of forests, so it spends part of the day in the sun and part in the shade. Too much sun or too much shade will impact the dogwood’s ability to bloom. It needs to go in a spot where it gets just enough, but not too much shade or light each day.
  • Water – You want to make sure your dogwood gets enough water. Unfortunately, not every dogwood cultivar will grow well in every planting zone, and some are more tolerant to drought than others. Dogwood ideally likes slightly moist soil conditions, so if you live in an area that is prone to drought, you’ll want to supplement water to meet its needs.

Over Fertilizing Dogwood Trees & Shrubs

Dogwood shrubs and trees are very prone to having issues with too much fertilizer, especially when they’re newly planted and young. So, it’s best to avoid fertilizing for the first season after you plant it. Once your dogwood matures, use a slow-release dogwood tree fertilizer geared toward acid-loving plants at the start of the active growing season. This will give them enough nutrients to carry them through the active growing months.

Adding too much fertilizer at the end of the growing season in the fall months can encourage new growth. However, it will only get damaged during the winter months and stunt growth the following spring.

Bottom Line

Dogwood tree fertilizer can be very challenging to get right the first few years, but you can tailor your choices to your shrubs or trees to encourage strong and healthy growth with flower production. You now know about the different types of fertilizer, when to apply them, when to avoid applying them, how to apply them, and how to avoid adding too much to keep your dogwood trees and shrubs thriving all year-round.

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