The 74th annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival is this weekend, and trees all over Atlanta are blooming. Coincidentally, last Saturday night an email from an old friend informed me that she had just dug up a "Rutgers dogwood" and wondered if I would like to plant it in my garden, or if she should put it on Craig's List? Being a Rutgers Alum and a practical sort that loves free plants I said, "Sure I would like it!" even though I had my doubts about planting it this late in the spring. Ideally, woody ornamentals and trees are planted in October or November in Atlanta, while the soil still retains some warmth from the summer and the leaves are off the tree relieving water stress.
The most spectacular flower display is delivered by the native Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) on bare branches, a brilliant show of bright white or pink flowers in early spring before the leaves emerge. This species is also valued for its horizontal branching habit, interesting red “football-shaped” fruit, and burgundy/red fall color. Unfortunately, the native Dogwood is susceptible to Anthracnose, a fungus disease that killed a large number of trees in the 1980s and 90s.
Rutgers Hybrid Dogwoods are the third type, lying between the first two. A long-term project by Rutgers University Prof Dr. Elwin Orton involved inter-specific crosses between the two species to produce hybrids resistant to Anthracnose. The resulting varieties of Dogwood combine many of the good traits of both types of tree.
So Sunday morning we met in the parking lot before church and transferred the tree from her car to ours. The Dogwood turned out to be quite a bit larger than I had realized, nearly 12 feet tall! All but the smallest amount of soil had fallen from its severely-cut root system, making it a bare-root plant. Leaf buds were just beginning to break although there weren’t any flower buds.