We have two 5-foot tall white dogwoods in front of our house, both set in a...

Asked September 11, 2013, 9:06 PM EDT

We have two 5-foot tall white dogwoods in front of our house, both set in a border bed of blue carpet juniper shrubs, both getting sun about 2/3 of the day. Late last summer, the small topmost branches of both dogwoods started to die, while the lower branches grew vigorously. The top dieback and bottom growth continued this summer, but recently became so severe that the trees seem ruined. Can you tell me the cause? If I replace them with new dogwoods, will the same problem occur? Do you recommend a different decorative tree?

Prince George's County Maryland

1 Response

Your dogwood trees are apparently suffering from moisture deprivation. Dogwoods have very shallow roots and are being forced to compete with the juniper and other plants surrounding their root zone. Also, they are poorly placed. Dogwoods prefer to be partial understory trees. Although many dogwoods survive when planted as specimen trees in full sun, it is not their preferred location. Also, dogwood trees tend to grow outward rather than upward, i.e., they like to spread. In their current location, they will eventually interfere with one another, with your sidewalk and with your driveway. The front of your home is very attractive and inviting with the lower foundation plantings. One or two tall trees will obscure the view of your home from the street. Dogwood trees are attractive features in a home landscape, so if you have an alternative location, you should consider planting there.
Incidentally, there is another tree in your photo that is encroaching on your home. You should consider having it judiciously pruned in order to prevent it touching the house. Such a situation can result in several problems: excessive moisture on the wooden structural elements of your home, an avenue of entry for rodents and insects, and property damage during a storm with either high winds or lightning.
Although any woody plant would probably struggle, you might consider a more open shrub such as a dwarf (!) crape myrtle. Be sure to look for a dwarf variety.