Dogwood Tree Dying – What Could Be Wrong?

Dogwood trees are among the most popular ornamental trees in the country. Watching your beloved dogwood die can be devastating. We've done the research and can tell you the most common reasons dogwood trees die and what you can do about it. 

If your dogwood tree looks like it is dying, it's likely due to one of the following conditions: 

  • Leaf scorch
  • Drought or water stress
  • Sunscald
  • Anthracnose canker
  • Crown canker
  • Armillaria root rot
  • Boring insects

Unfortunately, by the time you notice some of these conditions, they can't be treated. Keep reading to find out which ones are treatable and how you can save your beautiful dogwood tree. 

White and Red Dogwood Trees in Bloom on a Spring Day with Jefferson Memorial in Background. - Dogwood Tree Dying - What Could Be Wrong?


Leaf Scorch

Leaf scorch happens when your dogwood is exposed to too much sun or doesn't get enough water. Dogwood trees grow in the forest, where they receive lots of shade. If the edges of your dogwood's leaves are turning brown, it needs more water or afternoon shade. 

Flowering dogwood in spring

Will Leaf Scorch Kill a Dogwood Tree?

Fortunately, leaf scorch won't kill your dogwood unless you don't treat it. Leaf scorch is your dogwood's way of telling you it needs something. As long as you correct the cause, your dogwood should recover completely.

How Do You Treat Leaf Scorch on Dogwood?

If your dogwood is in full sun, you will probably need to provide it with some shade. Dogwoods don't tolerate full sun. You may need to transplant your dogwood if you can't figure out a way to shade it during the hot afternoon sun. For dogwoods that are already in the shade and still have leaf scorch, you'll need to give them more water. 

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Drought or Water Stress

As with leaf scorch, drought or water stress is a sign that your dogwood needs some attention. Not getting enough water can cause leaf scorch, but it can also cause wilted leaves. This is especially true in recently transplanted dogwoods.

If your dogwood tree has wilted leaves but is getting enough water, the problem may be with the root system. Dogwoods with damaged root systems may not be able to get enough water to their leaves. 


Sunscald is also caused by exposure to too much sun, but it's caused by exposure to winter sun. It usually happens on the southwest side of the tree. Sunscald is marked by an elongated scar that's discolored and sunken. It can cause the bark to peel away. This provides a way for insects and diseases to attack your tree. 

Anthracnose Canker

This is a serious fungal disease that will kill your dogwood tree if you don't catch it early. Even if you save your tree, you shouldn't transplant shoots from it because it may still harbor the disease. Anthracnose canker mainly occurs in dogwoods east of Mississippi. 

What Does Dogwood Anthracnose Look Like?

The first sign of anthracnose is spotting on the leaves and flower bracts. The spots can be tan with purple edges, dry brown edges, or large blotches. In cooler weather, you may notice drooping leaves as well. As the disease spreads, it causes sunken brown areas that can encircle and kill branches.  

What Fungicide Is Used for Anthracnose? 

Chlorothalonil, mancozeb, propiconazole, thiophanate-methyl, or copper fungicides can be used for anthracnose, but only if you treat it before the branches have started dying. Before you apply fungicide, you'll need to remove and dispose of all diseased twigs and stems. Remove any small shoots that have sprouted up from the anthracnose. 

Provide good air circulation by raking and removing any fallen leaves around the base of the tree. Remove any other vegetation that's crowding it as well. Apply the fungicide in the spring before the buds break through. Keep a protective coating of the fungicide whenever new growth is present. 

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Crown Canker

Crown canker can cause your dogwood to have small leaves that are lighter in color and may curl around the edges. As the disease progresses, you may notice twigs and branches dying on one side of the tree, but it will eventually spread to the entire tree. 

If you look closely, you'll see a dead area at the bottom of the tree that is slowly circling the tree and will eventually kill it. Crown canker is usually fatal for a dogwood. However, if you catch it early, you can try cutting out the canker and two inches of healthy bark. 

Preventing crown canker is a lot easier than treating it. Try to keep your dogwood from getting any wounds that make it vulnerable to disease. 

Dogwood a famous flower in spring

Armillaria Root Rot

This is an aggressive root rot that can attack your otherwise healthy plant. It's a fungus that kills your dogwood by circling the base of the tree. It's distinguishable by the honey-colored mushrooms that grow at the base of the tree. There's nothing you can do to treat a plant with this fungal disease. Just make sure you don't plant another dogwood in the same area since it lives in the soil. 

Boring Insects

The dogwood borer and the flat-headed appletree borer are two types of boring insects that can infect your dogwood tree. An early symptom of borers is bark sloughing off or small wet patches on your tree. Once these insects get inside the trunk of your dogwood, they are hard to control. Pesticides usually aren't effective at that point. 

Why Are My Dogwood's Leaves Curling? 


Curling leaves can be a sign of several problems with your dogwood. It could be a simple issue, such as your dogwood needs more water or shade. If that doesn't correct the problem, your dogwood might have a fungal infection. Look closely at the leaves for any spots. Some fungal infections are harmless and can easily be treated with fungicide. 

If your dogwood's leaves are curling, you should take a close look at the entire tree. Check the branches for signs of pests and look closely at the tree's trunk to make sure there are no cankers. If you see dark, sunken spots that look like gouges, you may be dealing with cankers. 

Why Does My Dogwood Tree Have Dead Branches?

Your dogwood tree may have dead branches because of boring insects or a canker fungus. If you see a dead branch, always do a close inspection of the entire tree so you can tell what you're dealing with. 

Should You Remove Dead Branches From a Tree?

You should definitely remove dead branches from a dogwood tree. Dead branches provide an entry point for pests and diseases. Remove these branches at the base of the branch where it meets the trunk. You should also remove any crossing branches rubbing each other since these can create wounds on the branches. 

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How Do I Know If My Dogwood Tree Is Dying?

If your dogwood tree is dying, you'll see signs of it in the bark or leaves. Peeling bark is a sure sign that your dogwood tree could be in trouble. You should also check the base of your dogwood. If you see mushrooms or a dead area near the tree's base, it's a sure sign of a problem.

You should also check your dogwood's leaves thoroughly. Some fungal spots on the leaves are purely cosmetic and don't pose a threat to your tree's life. However, some leaf problems, such as curled leaves, too small leaves, and leaves with scorched spots, could indicate that your tree needs help. 

Another sign of a dogwood dying is the presence of boring infects on its leaves or branches. These insects can be difficult to control once they're established inside your dogwood. 

What Is The Lifespan of a Dogwood Tree? 

Dogwoods can live up to 80 years under ideal conditions. However, in areas where it has to compete for nutrients, or its roots get too hot and dry, it usually only lives around 20 or 30 years. If you want to extend the life of your dogwood, make sure it has plenty of shade and water. 

White dogwood blooms

In Closing

Dogwoods are stunning trees that can make your garden a true showpiece in the spring. However, they do have some special needs that you should take into consideration. It's much easier to prevent most dogwood diseases than to treat them. 

Dogwoods need shade since they naturally grow under the canopy of forests. They also need good ventilation so fungal infections don't have a chance to grow. Most importantly, try to keep your dogwood's bark intact. A dogwood with a wound on its bark is more susceptible to any type of fungal disease or pest invasion. 

By giving your dogwood the environment and care it needs, you'll ensure it repays you with decades of glorious blooms. 

If you enjoyed this post, you might find these interesting as well: 

When Do Dogwood Trees Bloom? [And Why Isn’t Mine Blooming?]

Should You Fertilize Arborvitae?

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