English dogwoods extend glorious spring

Published 9:19 pm Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The big, fragrant, long-lasting blooms of the English dogwood, or Mock Orange, make it one of the most beautiful plants of mid- to late spring.

If by some chance you are not familiar with this shrub, it is known botanically as Philadelphus, after an ancient Egyptian king. The bouncing taxonomic placement of this shrub has been entertaining to watch. For a long time, it has been listed as a member of the Saxifragaceae family with relatives like astilibe, begenia and heuchera, and many still place it in this group. The taxonomic hierarchy now has it placed it in the hydrangea family, and this listing has been accepted by official government agencies.

From Southern Europe, it is not a dogwood, nor is it related to the orange. The blooms, however, are produced by the hundreds along arching stems forming a fountain-like appearance as showy as the dogwood. They are four-petaled and about 2 inches across. You can find them in single, semi-double and double forms. And as the name suggests, many have an enticing orange-blossom fragrance.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The English dogwood is cold hardy and can be planted over a large area, throughout zones 4 to 9. This long-lived shrub is suitable as a specimen-type plantings in a shrub border accent or as a screen or hedge. It almost never loses its blooms during late spring freezes. Another interesting feature of the plant is its exfoliating bark that reveals an orange color underneath.

Wait until you see them at your garden center in late spring. Purchase Mock Oranges while they are in bloom to ensure a highly fragrant selection. Innocence, Avalanche and Natchez are three of the hybrids known for their enticing fragrance.

When choosing a site in your landscape, keep in mind that the height, in full sun to partial shade, will reach 5 to 8 feet. The soil needs to be moist but well drained, and be sure to dig your hole wider than the rootball but no deeper than it is growing in the container.

Lucky for us as gardeners, the beautiful plants do not require lot of maintenance. Feed them in late winter with a light application of an 8-8-8 fertilizer. Maintain the plant’s structure by pruning the oldest wood and excess basal shoots after it blooms. These basal shoots form a large clump that can be separated in late winter. If the plant has gotten too gangly and needs rejuvenation, cut it to the ground after it blooms.

The English dogwood generally blooms after most azaleas, and it is quite striking in landscapes with Japanese maples nearby. Its bloom also coincides with several different irises, allowing you to create a dazzling show.

Whether you call it the Mock Orange or English dogwood, I am sure the glistening white blossoms will be most welcome around your home. After all, extending spring’s glorious bloom is a worthy goal. Shop for the English dogwood this weekend.