Plant Profile: Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa)

Today’s Plant Profile is about one of my favorite small trees: the Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa). Kousas, as they’re commonly referred to, hail from eastern Asia and also go by the common name Japanese Dogwood. They are showstoppers in the landscape and for those who aren’t familar with them, expect the “what is that beautiful tree” questions to ensue.

Photo courtesy of


As compared to the native dogwood Cornus florida, kousas bloom later in the spring. Here in Virginia, native dogwoods tend to bloom in April and kousas make their entrance into the flowering world in May. They also bloom when the leaves are on the trees whereas native dogwoods bloom before the leaves unfurl. Since the kousa blooms come out after the leaves emerge, they have a layered appearance that is stunning in the landscape. The blooms last for 4 weeks or more and carry the landscape into the early days of “unofficial” summer.

I enjoy using kousas in the landscape because they are much more tolerant of sun than the native dogwoods. So many times, well meaning folks plant native dogwoods in full sun and then wonder why it starts declining a few years later. “But it has more blooms in full sun” they say. Sure it does…and I hope that you enjoy them for the 10-15 years that the plant survives. If they are planted in the partial shade that they prefer in the wild, the trees will live a much longer life. But back to the kousa dogwoods. They are much better suited to full sun and actually prefer it over partial shade. Many new landscapes have little to no shade and kousas easily fit into these harsher environments.

Kousas rarely succumb to pests and diseases. Dogwood anthracnose has plagued our native dogwoods and I don’t personally recommend planting the straight species anymore. But the kousa dogwoods are there to fill the bill. There are many kousa cultivars that have hit the market recently. Let’s look at a few:

  • ‘Little Poncho’ – if you’re looking for a dwarf kousa that only reaches 8′-10′ tall in the landscape
  • ‘Milky Way’ – this cultivar is probably the one that you’ll see available most at garden centers. It has a broad bushy form and is loaded with flowers in the spring and fruits in the fall.
  • ‘Wolf Eye’ – this is a cultivar that has green leaves with a crisp, clear white margin. It is primarily grown for its foliage but it still has the same beautiful flowers as its non-variegated family members.


Photo courtesy of

Kousa dogwoods have attractive salmon colored fruits that appear in the fall and are attractive in and of themselves.  The fruits can be eaten and turned into jelly or jam if your heart desires. That is if you can get to them before the birds and squirrels do…it’s pretty stiff competition in the fall.

Reaching 15′ to 20′ tall at maturity, kousas can be worked into virtually any landscape. If 15′ to 20′ is too tall for you, consider ‘Little Poncho’ for a smaller space. I hope that you will consider working a kousa dogwood somewhere into your landscape. Or if you have a kousa in your yard, tell other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers your experience with them. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!


May 2, 2012Permalink 11 Comments

11 thoughts on “Plant Profile: Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa)

  1. Hi Stacey, thank you for the information on our Kousa variegated dogwood. I live in Midlothian VA, and we were just given an 8′ tree as a housewarming gift. We want to plant it in our back yard, which gets full sun from 12 to whenever! It will be against a green forest back drop. Our soil is very clay like though, and there is an irrigation system. Will our kousa survive the clay soil and regular watering? Your help is appreciated!

    • Kathryn, the kousa should do fine in the clay soil provided that it’s not overwatered. You mention that it will be in an area that receives regular watering. Perhaps you could scale back your watering or even adjust the irrigation head so that it doesn’t water the tree every time you water. Be sure that you unbury the root flare when planting. I’ve seen the flare of kousas be a foot or more below the top of the root ball. They are often grafted and the grower will cover the dog leg (where the graft union is) to make it appear straighter. Let me know if you have any other questions!

  2. Stacey, the deer ate all the branches off my young Kousa. All I have is a trunk left. I planted it year before last, it is about 6 feet tall. Will this come back ok and will it take forever? I feel like I should just get another one for tis spot and move this one somewhere not so noticable. What do you think?

    • Hi, Marcie!

      Your kousa will likely survive but it will look a bit strange. Wouldn’t you if someone ate your arms and legs? 🙂 Seriously, the tree is going to put a tremendous amount of energy into regenerating new branches which is hard for a newly established tree. I question whether putting another in its place will change the ultimate outcome. If the deer ate this tree, they will likely eat your replacement one. I would leave the branchless tree and work on pruning it into a lovely tree over the years to come…

    • Ehhh, it depends on what you mean by complete shade. Is it dark shade with very little or no sunlight, even when the wind blows? Probably not. Is it light, dappled shade? For sure.

  3. Hi Stacy,

    I am looking for a show-stopper at the edge of a row of mature pines. (ie. acidic soil). The area is pretty dry, and shady until mid-late afternoon. There is an irrigation system, but it hasn’t been run for a long time. Do you think if we can get it going, it would be a good place for a kousa? Or do you have a better suggestion for me?


  4. Hi Stacey,

    Will my cornus kousa survive no Sun (north side of home) for the winter? but it will have full sun spring and into fall

    • I apologize for not answering earlier but yes, your kousa will do fine in the shade for winter. It is finished photosynthesizing at that time of year. Let me know what you decided to do!

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