Published on 07/22/98

Suffering Dogwoods Need Water in Georgia Summer

Dogwood trees in Georgia may appear to be confused about the season as their leaves take on the look of fall. They aren't confused. They're thirsty.

Scorched dogwood leaves -- links to full-size image
Sharon Omahen -- UGA CAES

GEORGIA DOGWOODS NOT CONFUSED, just thirsty, say UGA experts. Drought damage like this leaf scorch can't be reversed, but home- owners can prevent further damage with consistent, thorough watering. Early- morning drip watering is best for trees and shrubs and gets most of the water to the plant roots, instead of allowing it to run off. (Photo courtesy the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

University of Georgia horticulturists say dogwoods are one of the first landscape trees to suffer when conditions border on drought.

"The first sign that your dogwoods are suffering from lack of rain is wilting leaves," saidJim Midcap, an Extension Service horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "The leaves will become limp and hang down."

Brown, scorched leaves are sure signs of severe drought damage.

"Drought-damaged dogwoods will develop leaf scorch, which starts as a brown band around the outside of the leaves," Midcap said. "The cells on the outside of the leaves begin to die, and this turns the leaf edges brown."

The leaves will eventually turn totally brown if the lack of water continues.

To keep your dogwoods from developing leaf scorch, begin watering them at the first sign of wilting.

"Early-morning watering is the most efficient time," Midcap said. "If you water in the heat of the day, you lose water to evaporation."

Water dogwoods at ground level from the base of the tree out to the edge of the canopy or drip-line. "It's best to use a soaker hose around the drip line," Midcap said. "This allows the water to be absorbed by the ground rather than run off."

A good watering of one inch once a week should be plenty for most parts of Georgia. However, sandy soils may require watering more often.

"Dogwoods actually suffer due to human error," Midcap said. "Their native habitat is the forest. But people insist on planting them in their lawns in full sunlight."

Dogwoods are understory trees. They grow best in the shade. "Their root systems perform best in wooded areas with a cool organic mulch," he said. "That's their native habitat."

Midcap recently traveled through a northeast Georgia town and was amazed to see dogwoods planted around the town square.

"They were planted in full sun with turf grass growing at their bases," he said. "They really suffer between the sun and the competition from the turf grass for soil nutrients."

Thinking of adding dogwoods to your landscape? Midcap has some tips to keep in mind.

"Keep the competition away, and plant them in some shade," he said. "Plant your dogwoods four to six feet away from other landscape plants and trees. And keep the base of the tree clear of vegetation."

Add two to three inches of organic mulch, such as pine straw or pine bark nuggets, to help your dogwoods' performance. "Don't use rock mulches around trees and plants, as they absorb heat," he said.

Consider trying the kousa or Chinese dogwood when adding new dogwoods to your landscape. "They're quite a bit tougher than the native dogwoods," he said. "And they maintain green foliage better."

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.