Q: Last year we lost two old dogwoods (approximately 30 years old) in our backyard. We have another old dogwood in the front yard and now it too looks sickly. Not many blooms – just sort of twiggy looking. Do you have any suggestions for taking care of this old friend? It made me terribly sad to lose those last summer.
A: Sometimes it is best to let nature take its course. In my experience, dogwoods have an average life span of twenty to thirty years. Stressors like drought, heat, borers and lawn mower damage eventually take their toll. It’s not surprising that yours is in decline. Even so, the alumna of Agnes Scott College point with pride to their Presser Hall dogwood that survived one hundred years before dying a few years ago.
When a tree is in decline the best you can do is to mulch the ground out to the ends of the branches (to keep the soil cool) and water deeply once per week in summer. Heavy fertilization will do more harm than good but you could sprinkle some Nursery Special fertilizer or cottonseed meal (both at half strength) onto the ground before you apply the mulch.
If the dogwood tree dies, be grateful you’ve enjoyed it (and the ones out back) this long.