Budding Dogwoods

The beautiful white bloom of a dogwood tree compliments any landscape, making it a

Flowering dogwood bernheim.org

Flowering dogwood bernheim.org

popular ornamental tree in America. Because of the large range of species of dogwood, it is easy to grow them almost anywhere in the US. Today, dogwoods are cultivated with primarily horticultural purposes, however history shows that they have more than just aesthetic value. Dogwood bark was used during the civil war by confederates as an ingredient in tea to treat pain and fevers. Not only has the dogwood been used as a remedy during the civil war, it has even been proven to halt the spread of malaria. Cornus florida have a bark that is enriched in tannin which has been used as a substitute for quinine because they both have antimalarial properties. Other unique uses of dogwood include their berries. The dogwood provides food for many animals and the Cornus mas is commonly cultivated in Southeastern Europe for its berries. These berries can either be eaten raw, turned into jam, or fermented into wine. The composition of dogwood timber is very fine-grained and dense. This makes dogwood timber ideal for items that require a strong wood, such as tool handles.

Budding or Grafting?

Flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida) and Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) can easily be grown from seeds, however budding has more advantages. Budding is quicker and usually gives a much better yield than propagating from seeds. And if you propagate a flowering dogwood using seeds, the plant will almost always be white, even if you plant a pink or red dogwood seed. Grafting is done to get the pink or red coloring by grafting the variety Cornus florida rubra onto a Cornus florida stock. Budding is usually preferred over grafting because it makes more economic use of the scion wood and it is a fairly simple process overall. The scion consists of only one or more bud inserted onto the rootstock instead of an entire branch grafted on.

Rootstock and Scion Selection

The rootstock and scion selection depends on the environment in which the tree will live in after it has been budded. Flowering dogwood is hardy from USDA Plant Hardiness Zones five through nine, which means it can survive temperatures as cold as -25 to -35 degrees F. Kousa dogwoods have a plant hardiness zone between 4 and 8. Which means is can sustain life at even lower temperatures than the flowering dogwood, but both number are close enough and low enough for this to not be a factor. Both plants can tolerate heavy soils reasonably well, but do poorly in flooded soils. The flowering buds of Cornus Kousa have a greater hardiness to the cold than Cornus florida do. Roots of the flowering dogwood cannot tolerate compacted soils. Compare this information with the environment the budded dogwood will be planted in to ensure the best scion and rootstock selection.

There are a few tools that are needed to make budding a success. These tools include:

  • Grafting knife to cut your bud and rootstock
  • Parafilm and a budding rubber to seal the wound and secure the bud. If you do not have parafilm or a budding rubber, adhesive tape and a cut rubber band can be used as a substitute.

    Grafting Knife A.M. Leonard

    Grafting Knife A.M. Leonard


Propagation of Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is easily done by T-budding. Because of their common characteristics, Cornus kousa and Cornus florida are compatible and should take easily. Budding can be done in late summer when the bark is slipping. This term simply means that when a cut is made on the rootstock, the bark can easily be pulled away from the cambium layer.

Traditionally, T-budding is done when the rootstock is actively growing and the scion, or bud, is dormant. There are three common times to do budding: spring budding, June budding, and summer budding (also known as fall budding). Summer budding is ideal for dogwoods because the rootstock is actively growing and the bark is slipping. By midsummer (July or August) the rootstock plant should be large enough to accommodate the bud and still grow. As mentioned before the scion should be dormant when grafted onto the rootstock. Simply cut a branch of the dogwood you would like to use as the scion when the plant is dormant and refrigerate it until it is ready to be grafted.

The T-budding process itself can be tedious for a beginning, but it is not difficult. As the

Scion of a "T-Bud" with the shield. McGroarty Enterprises Inc.

Scion of a “T-Bud” with the shield. McGroarty Enterprises Inc.

name suggests, you will make a “T” shaped cut in your rootstock and this cut is where the bud is going to be inserted. Prepare the rootstock by making a vertical cut on a smooth section at an internode no more than one inch long. A horizontal cut will be made at the top of the vertical cut and will go approximately one-third the distance around the stock. Use the grafting knife to open the two flaps that have just been created at the top of the “T”. This is where the bud will be inserted. Prepare the bud by placing the knife approximately half an inch below the desired bud. Make a one inch slice cut under the bud. The bud will still be attached where the cut ended. To remove the bud completely, make a horizontal cut three quarters above the bud. The bud should come off with a “shield” around it. Be extremely delicate and careful to not cut through the whole branch. Now it is time to insert the bud into the rootstock.

Work quickly to prevent desiccation of the bud. Insert the bud into the rootstock by pushing

The scion inserted into the "T" cut of the rootstock. McGroarty Enterprises Inc.

The scion inserted into the “T” cut of the rootstock. McGroarty Enterprises Inc.

the shield of the bud down under the two flaps in the rootstock. Push the bud into the rootstock until the horizontal cut of the shield is in line with the horizontal cut of the rootstock. Finally, use the parafilm and then the budding rubber to secure the bud in place. Be extremely careful to not let the bud more or shift as you apply the parafilm and budding rubber because the graft will not take if the cambium layer doesn’t line up. As the bud comes out of dormancy, it will grow into a new branch just as if it is part of the rootstock.


Dogwoods are widely embodied in American landscapes today because of their attractive flowers and bracts. And with about 60 species, you are bound to find one that catches your eye. Thanks to the use of grafting and budding, you can create your very own.


Works Cited
Hartmann, Hudson T. Hartmann & Kester’s Plant Propagation: Principles and Practices. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall/Pearson, 2011. Print.
McGroarty, Michael J. “Budding Fruit Trees and Ornamental Plants.” Budding Fruit Trees and Ornamental Plants. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2014.
McGroarty, Michael J. “Using the Propagation Technique Known as Budding to Grow Beautiful Ornamental Trees.” Gardening Articles. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2014.
White, Sarah. “Chaper 7 Dogwood-Cornus App.” IPM for Select Deciduous Trees in Southeastern US Nursery Production. By Amy Fulcher. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 137-41. Print.

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