Wedding Cake Dogwood: Information For Growing A Giant Dogwood Tree

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

The giant dogwood has such an appealing appearance that it’s also known as the wedding cake tree. Wedding cake tree care for young plants should be consistent until establishment but mature variegated giant dogwood trees are quite hardy and tolerant provided they are kept moist. Read on to learn more about this interesting flowering dogwood variety.

Giant Dogwood Information

The wedding cake dogwood has the grown up moniker Cornus controversa ‘Variegata.’ This lovely tree grows up to 50 feet (15 m.) tall but more commonly 25 to 30 feet (7.5 to 9 m.) in height. It is a native of Asia, which can be planted in United States Department of Agriculture zones 5 through 8. These trees are easy to grow and susceptible to only a few pests and diseases.

The wedding cake dogwood is a fast growing tree that does well in either partial shade or full sun. The limbs are horizontal, giving the appearance of layering, but as the plant matures they tend to droop a bit. In spring, it produces a brilliant display of creamy white flowers. An interesting nugget of giant dogwood information reveals these flowers to be leaves. The flowers are actually bracts, or modified leaves, that form around the very tiny and mundane real flower. The flowers develop into bluish-black berries that are favorites of birds, squirrels, and other animals.

In fall, the leaves turn a rich red and in spring the bright green tops of new leaves complement the variegated silvery white tinged under leaves.

Growing a Giant Dogwood Tree

These trees are not found in many nurseries, but if you are lucky enough to find one, take care to situate it in a good location and provide basic wedding cake tree care as it establishes.

The best place for variegated giant dogwood trees is in slightly acidic soil where there is dappled lighting. It will also perform well in full sun situations.

You can plant it in either clay or loam but the soil should be slightly moist but not boggy. Take care to provide enough space above and on the sides for the adult height and spread of this majestic tree.

Care of the Wedding Cake Dogwood

After planting, it is a good idea to stake the young tree for straight strong growth. Provide water weekly for the first few months, and thereafter supplement moisture in very dry periods and in summer with a deep drench every couple of weeks.

This tree is resistant to many pests but does occasionally have a problem with dogwood borers and scale. It is resistant to Verticillium but may become prey to canker diseases and root rot.

Overall, it is a very easy tree to care for and worth having for its many seasons of interest.

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Variegated Giant Dogwood Trees - Learn About Wedding Cake Tree Care - garden

Cornus controversa 'Variegata'

Variegated Giant Dogwood flowers

Variegated Giant Dogwood flowers

Variegated Giant Dogwood foliage

Variegated Giant Dogwood foliage

Other Names: Wedding Cake Tree

Incredible green and white variegated foliage large tree with gracefully layered branches and wide, rounded form make this tree an excellent specimen attractive deep blue fruit in late summer great yellow and green fall color

Variegated Giant Dogwood features showy clusters of white flowers with white bracts held atop the branches in early summer. It has attractive white-variegated dark green foliage throughout the season. The pointy leaves are highly ornamental and turn an outstanding yellow in the fall. It produces navy blue berries from early to late fall. The warty gray bark adds an interesting dimension to the landscape.

Variegated Giant Dogwood is a deciduous tree with a stunning habit of growth which features almost oriental horizontally-tiered branches. Its average texture blends into the landscape, but can be balanced by one or two finer or coarser trees or shrubs for an effective composition.

This is a relatively low maintenance tree, and should only be pruned after flowering to avoid removing any of the current season's flowers. It is a good choice for attracting birds to your yard. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Variegated Giant Dogwood is recommended for the following landscape applications

  • Accent
  • Shade

Variegated Giant Dogwood will grow to be about 50 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 25 feet. It has a low canopy with a typical clearance of 4 feet from the ground, and should not be planted underneath power lines. It grows at a slow rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 60 years or more.

This tree does best in full sun to partial shade. It requires an evenly moist well-drained soil for optimal growth, but will die in standing water. It is very fussy about its soil conditions and must have rich, acidic soils to ensure success, and is subject to chlorosis (yellowing) of the leaves in alkaline soils. It is quite intolerant of urban pollution, therefore inner city or urban streetside plantings are best avoided, and will benefit from being planted in a relatively sheltered location. Consider applying a thick mulch around the root zone in winter to protect it in exposed locations or colder microclimates. This is a selected variety of a species not originally from North America.

What is a Dogwood Tree?

Dogwoods belong to the genus Cornus. This genus contains around 60 woody plant species in the family Cornaceae. Most dogwoods are deciduous trees or shrubs. Though some are herbaceous perennial subshrubs. Still, other woody species are evergreens.

Dogwoods are native throughout Eurasia, North America, China, and Japan. The flowering dogwood is the most commonly planted, due to its showy nature. You may also recognize it by its older, now less commonly used names. These include American dogwood, Florida dogwood, white dogwood, Indian arrowwood, white cornel, Cornelian tree, false box, and false boxwood.

How to Care for Dogwood Trees

Watering and nutrients

During its first few years, water your dogwood as necessary when rain is sparse. You want to keep the soil consistently moist, but not soggy, as dogwoods are susceptible to root rot. You can taper off watering the trees during the winter months, when they are dormant.

Apply a slow-release fertilizer formulated for landscape trees and shrubs in the early spring, before the tree breaks dormancy. Be stingy when applying the fertilizer — too much can burn the tree’s roots.


What appears to be the flower of the dogwood is actually a series of four bracts, which surround the actual, tiny yellow flowers of the tree. They are not self-pollinating, and another tree, preferably of a different cultivar, is needed to produce the tree’s fruit, which ripens and falls to the ground in the fall.


Dogwoods don’t require regular pruning. Remove dead or diseased branches, along with any that are crossed and rubbing against each other. Clip any suckers that form at the base of the trunk or branches that are too low and hard to mow under. The best time to prune is in summer, since they will bleed sap in the spring, which can be messy.

Pests, diseases, and animals

Anthracnose can infect dogwoods, leaving brown spots on leaves and dead tissue on leaf edges. Prune it out whenever it occurs, and remove leaf debris from around the base of the tree. Powdery mildew can also be a problem, but can be controlled with a fungicide or by planting mildew-resistant varieties such as the kousa dogwood.

The dogwood borer feeds beneath the bark of the dogwood, and can kill branches or even the tree itself. Monitor your tree for open wounds, and if you have a recurring problem with borers, apply permethrin to reduce infestations. Scale insects may be visible as small bumps on the bark, and can be killed with horticultural oil in the spring.

Deer may nibble on young dogwoods in the winter if food is scarce. Until your trees reach a decent size, you may want to burlap the trunks during the winter months.

Cornus controversa 'Variegata' Tree

Cornus controversa 'Variegata', the Wedding cake tree, is aptly named as it forms tabulate spreading tiers of branches, much like the layers of a traditional wedding cake. Foliage is a beautiful mid green with broad creamy white margins turning shades of reddish purple in the autumn. Considered slightly more robust than the similar Cornus alternifolia 'Argentea', 'Variegata' also has larger, slightly less delicate looking foliage.

Creamy white clusters of flowers appear in May-June followed by blue/black fruit that create additional seasonal interest. Cornus controversa 'Variegata' makes a wonderful focal point and lightens the garden. Given a sunny position expect a height and spread of 3 x 3 meters in 20 years from this Flowering Dogwood.

AKA Wedding Cake tree, Table dogwood

  • Common name: Wedding Cake tree
  • Awards: RHS Award of Garden Merit
  • Height and spread in 20 years: 3 x 3 metres
  • Seasons of interest: Spring, Summer, Autumn
  • Foliage: Variegated, deciduous
  • Position: Full sun to part shade

Planting Cornus controversa Variegata Trees

Our pot grown Wedding Cake Dogwood can be planted at any time of the year. Start by removing weeds and grass within a metre of your desired planting hole, then dig a square hole as deep as your root mass and roughly 1.5x as wide. To help the plant establish, sprinkle Mycorrhizal Fungi in the hole.

Gently loosen the roots and place into the planting hole. Using 50% of the original soil and 50% compost, fill in the hole and firm around gently, making sure not to bank the soil up around the collar of the tree. For further information, visit our help and advice section .

Aftercare Advice for Cornus controversa Variegata Trees

If you’re planting Variegata Dogwood in spring or summer, water well and regularly for the first few months. Take care to water the soil, not the leaves which can lead to scorching - irrigation kits make this easier. Increase watering in extended periods of hot or dry weather, but avoid over watering as Dogwood does not like wet soil. If you’re planting in autumn, you may only need to water a little.

Once planted, keep the area free of competing weeds and grass for the first few growing seasons. Don't mulch around the base of Chinese Dogwoods with bark.

Planting Advice for Cornus controversa Variegata Trees

Variegata Dogwood forms attractive spreading tiers of branches. The only real maintenance in regard to pruning is to remove and damaged or diseased branches. The only time to hard prune a dogwood tree is to control the overall size or internal canopy or if there is not enough light reaching the inner branches.

To help ease these issues, cut off any crossing or over-crowding branches then continue to remove any secondary branches throughout the canopy. Only prune in the dormant season and never in spring. Pruning during spring can create entry points in the wood for insects which may lead to disease.

Delivery Costs

1 small tree (most under 1.5 metres in height) : £9.95 + vat

1 medium tree (most 1.5-2 metres in height) or 2-4 small trees: £11.95 + vat

2+ medium trees or 5+ small trees: £14.95 + vat

1-4 trees delivered by pallet to kerbside (inc. mature Japanese Maples): 24.95 + vat

Mature trees, pleached trees or orders too large for pallet: Cost is calculated in the checkout process and varies by postcode not quantity. Starts from £48 + vat.

The above prices exclude the Scottish Highlands, where delivery starts from £24.95 + vat and is calculated in the checkout process. Please note, we are unable to deliver outside of Mainland UK.

Delivery Timescales

All trees are carefully packed by our experienced team and most are delivered within 3 weeks of placing the order, unless stated otherwise. Due to a high volume of orders, current lead time is 3-5 weeks. There's no need to be in to receive your order and you can request where it is left via the checkout.

For pleached and mature trees (trees over 2.5m in height), we group orders together by geographic area for specialist delivery - we will contact these customers about the delivery date.

Trees on pre-order are still growing and an estimate of when they will be ready is on the product/basket page. Orders are despatched once all trees are ready.

Gift trees and those required by a specific date can be accommodated with pleasure, although we accept no legal responsibility for late deliveries.

Our nursery is a busy despatch centre, so please make an appointment to collect or view trees. For collections, despatch charges will be refunded.

The product table at the bottom of the page gives the forms and sizes available for this variety. Please note, photos are a guideline as all plants are unique. Below are definitions of terms:

Supplied Size: Height measured from the top of the pot.

Single Stem / Pruned and shaped: Classic shaped tree with a single stem that has had pruning to help create a beautiful, natural shape.

Top grafted: A height noted next to this form refers to the length of clear stem, which will not grow taller. Only the head of branches will develop. Top grafted trees do not require complicated pruning and are ideal for small spaces.

Feathered: A feathered tree has branches from the bottom of the trunk all the way up. These branches can be removed if a clear stem is required.

Multi Stem: A multi stem tree has two or more stems arising from or near ground level, growing from one root system.

Bush: A plant with many stems low down, rather than one clear stem.

Clump: Several plants in one pot that can give the appearance of a multi stemmed and very bushy tree.

Climber: A plant that is a natural climber and will be delivered usually running up a bamboo cane, ready to position in the garden.

Standard Tree: A more mature tree with an upright clear stem of approximately 1.8m-2.0m (measured from the soil to the lowest branches of the crown). Standards are available in different forms relating to their girth size (circumference of the stem measured 1m above soil level), not height:

Standard either 6-10cm or 8-10cm girth, approximately 2.5-3.0m in height
Premium Standard 10-12cm girth, approximately 3.0-3.5m in height
Heavy Standard 12-14cm girth, approximately 3.5-4.5m in height
Extra Heavy Standard 14-16cm girth approximately 4.0-6m in height

Like all varieties of Cornus kousa, 'Wolf Eyes' blooms later in the spring than does flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)—an important factor to consider if you are trying to stagger bloom periods in your yard to improve year-round interest.

A slow-growing tree that stays compact, 'Wolf Eyes' is a better choice than most trees for planting in foundation beds. Since it stays short, you can use Wolf Eyes Cornus kousa as the understory element in a loose privacy screen of trees and shrubs on a border. Its variegated leaves also make this Chinese dogwood a legitimate specimen tree.

Chinese dogwoods are good trees for attracting birds, as wild birds will eat the berries.

Watch the video: Chinese Dogwood as Edible Landscaping

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