Q: Why does my dogwood have curled leaves? Is there a disease or insect problem I should be worried about?

A: Dogwoods very commonly exhibit curled leaves in summer, so chances are you don’t have too much to worry about. If you’ve planted your dogwood tree in the last 2-3 years, this is completely normal–your tree simply hasn’t gotten its roots system completely established. Typically within 5 years of transplanting, you’ll see the majority of leaf curl diminish.

Leaf curl on dogwoods is essentially a protective reaction to stress the tree feels. Rather than keep its leaves flat and susceptible to burning in the summer sun, dogwoods curl their leaves to minimize leaf surface area and thus minimize any damage they might receive.

If you have a dogwood showing significant leaf curl throughout the summer 5 years or longer beyond when you planted it, keep these tips in mind:

  • Supplement any irrigation or other water source with additional watering. Turn a garden hose on to a trickle and let it run at the base of the tree twice a week for half an hour during hot weather. This will direct water straight down into the root system and alleviate stress.
  • Use Vitamin B-1 (available inexpensively at Vander Giessen’s) twice a month through the summer to reduce stress and promote vigorous rooting.
  • If you have very well-drained soil, great! Better that than heavy soil that holds too much moisture. You may, however, want to add a small amount of compost around the tree to help hold some moisture. Additionally, you can spread bark mulch around the base of the tree to keep the soil from drying out.
  • Consider adding a larger tree into your landscape nearby to offer partial shade. In our area, dogwoods typically do fine in full sun, but if your tree is planted in a hot, full-sun location, it might benefit from some afternoon shade. 

These tips are useful for younger dogwoods as well–don’t feel like you have to wait 5 years to start implementing them! Usually, though, dogwoods will adapt very well to any location after a few years, so don’t worry too much if your new tree looks stressed. Just be sure to offer it some TLC and it will reward you with years of beautiful spring or early-summer blooms!