How to Propagate and Grow ‘Milky Way’ Chinese Dogwood Trees, Cornus kousa

Last updated : 5 November 2014
Milky Way Chinese Dogwood Tree

Milky Way Chinese Dogwood Tree

Chinese Dogwood trees are really special because they bloom later than most flowering trees and often bloom longer.  Here in zones 5 and 6 they don’t start blooming until at least June.  The blooms open a beautiful mint green in color and then whiten as time goes on.

Is there a market for Chinese Dogwood Seedlings? 
You Bet there is.  Click for details.

Milky Way Chinese Dogwood Tree

Milky Way Chinese Dogwood Tree

As you can see from this photo they are easy to maintain in size if you have them in a spot where they need to remain small.  This one has been in my landscape for eight years.  We (mostly Pam) keep it trimmed so it does not grow a lot taller.

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Milky Way Chinese Dogwood Tree

Milky Way Chinese Dogwood Tree

There’s not much difference between the ‘Milky Way’ Chinese Dogwood tree and a regular Chinese Dogwood tree, Cornus kousa, except one really big thing.  Milky Way blooms at a very young age!  The standard Chinese Dogwood trees which are typically grown from seed can take up to 7 to 10 years before they make their first flower.  Where Milky Way blooms when really young, which makes it the preferred variety.

Milky Way Chinese Dogwood Tree

Milky Way Chinese Dogwood Tree

There are a number of different ways to propagate ‘Milky Way’ Chinese Dogwoods.

Typically when you want to produce an exact clone of any hybrid plant you have  to use a means of asexual reproduction such as rooting cuttings, budding, grafting or tissue culture.  Typically when you grow a plant from seed, which is sexual reproduction, you’ll get a seedling that resembles the parent plant but the seedling is not likely to have all of the desired characteristics that you were trying to capture.

So all of the above will work with the ‘Milky Way’ Chinese Dogwood.  You can take softwood cuttings and root them during the summer, typically June in most climates is a good time.  Budding works great but in order to do budding you first need a root stock to bud onto which means that you would first have to grow a Chinese Dogwood from seed.  The same holds true for grafting.

‘Milky Way’ Chinese Dogwood holds a secret that few are aware of.

They will come true from seed!  That means that if you collect seeds from a ‘Milky Way’ Chinese Dogwood and grow those seeds, a percentage of them, not all of them, but some of them will contain all of the genes that make ‘Milky Way’ so special.  Especially the highly desirable ability to bloom at a young age.

How Do You Know which Seedlings will be ‘Milky Way’?

You have to grow them out and watch them as they grow.  The very first ones to make flowers in the first few years are sure to have those ‘Milky way’ characteristics.  Those that don’t have those characteristics won’t bloom for at least 5, 7 or even 10 years!  Urrrrg.

How to Grow Chinese Dogwoods from Seed.

The trees bloom in early summer and after the flowers are spent seed pods start to form.  Unlike other dogwood trees the seed pod on a Chinese Dogwood are much larger, softer and squishy.  By fall these seed pods turn bright red and somewhat resemble and are almost as large as a strawberry.  Allow the seed pods to remain on the tree all summer until fall.  You have to give the seeds inside of the seed pod time to mature.  Typically once the seed pods start falling to the ground in the fall you can harvest the remaining seed pods from the tree.

Getting the Seeds Out of the Seed Pods.

Take an old window screen and place it on blocks so air can pass beneath and over the  window screen.  Spread the seed pods out on the window screen and allow them to dry.  As they dry you can crush the outer coating between your fingers and eventually you’ll be able to separate the seeds from the chaff.  Do this in your garage.  If you do it outside chipmunks and other critters will rob you of your seeds.  I promise you they will.  It happened to me!  Once you have seeds in hand you have a couple of different options for getting them to germinate and I’ll share them both with you, but I’d have to say that option #1 is probably easier and equally effective.

Chinese Dogwood Seed Growing Option #1.

Fill a flat with a good seed starting mix.  Do this in the fall, as soon as you have cleaned the seeds.  Spread the seeds out evenly over the growing medium and gently press them into or tightly against the growing medium.  Next sprinkle a very light layer of seed starting mix over the seeds.  Just enough to cover them.  The rule of thumb is twice the length of the seed.  That’s how much you should soil you should have covering your seeds.

Next take the flat outside and place it in a shady area that is protected from the wind.  You are going to leave the flat outside in the protected area all winter.  The seeds have to absorb moisture and the outer coating of the seed has to soften before the seedling can grow.  They also have to go through a cold treatment.  By leaving the flat outside in the cold, freezing, damp weather you are really mimicking what Mother Nature intended in order for the seedlings to grow.  Don’t worry about them!  They are not baby chicks!  They need some harsh treatment.

You have to Critter Proof Your Flat of Seeds!

Make sure to cover your flat of seeds with a piece of hardware cloth (window screen) and make sure it is securely fastened down so chipmunks, field mice or the Lockness Monster can’t get to your seeds.  Come spring, about mid spring, you can remove the screen and water the flat as needed.  Don’t keep the growing medium soggy all the time.  It takes heat to germinate seeds so let the soil dry and warm between watering.

Air Prune those Little Seedlings.

Once your seedlings have germinated I’d just leave them in the flat untouched until fall.  Once they start growing you can raise the flat and put two boards under the flat.  That will keep the seedlings from growing through the flat into the ground.  This is known as air pruning.  As the roots reach the bottom of the flat and start to grow through they are exposed to the air.  That exposure will kill the tips of the roots.  That’s a good thing because what it does is when the tips of the roots are terminated via air pruning the plant starts to make more lateral roots and when you pull your seedlings from the flat they will have nice little, but full root balls.

Warning, Warning, Warning!

Once you raise that flat off the ground and allow air to circulate under the flat you will have to ramp up your watering schedule because the flat will dry out very easily with air passing beneath it.  Another option would be to place a piece of plastic under the flat and not let the air pass below.  This may not work as well for root pruning, but if you think you might miss a watering, don’t take that chance.

Chinese Dogwood Seed Growing Option #2.

The second option is an indoor technique.

Clean the seeds as described above.  Once you have the seeds cleaned just put them into a paper lunch bag and store them in a cool, dry place until late winter.  About early February get the seeds out and put them in a zip lock bag with some seed starting mix.  Shake the bag up mixing the seeds with the seed starting mix.  Wet the mix well, then squeeze all of the water that you can out of the mix.   Close the bag up, but poke a few holes in the bag so you have a little bit of air flow.  Place the bag in your refrigerator and leave it there for 90 days.

This is known as stratifying the seeds.  Basically you are giving them the cold treatment that they need, and you are softening the outer coating of the seed with the damp, but not soggy soil mix.

After 90 days remove the bag from the refrigerator and look for sprouting seeds.  As the seeds sprout just pick them out with tweezers and plant them in a flat of seed starting mix about 1/2 to 1 inch apart.  Leave the bag out in a warm area, room temperature, but not in direct sunlight, and watch for more sprouting seeds.

Keep the seedlings indoors until the danger of frost and freezing weather has safely passed, then move the flat outside in a shady area and water as described above.

Is there a market for Chinese Dogwood Seedlings? 
You Bet there is.  Click for details.

Questions or comments?  Post them below.


  1. Bill Nilsen says

    I did option #2 and have about 85 sprouts out of about 100 seeds that I took out of the refrigerator a few weeks ago. They are in two flats, inside, out of the direct sun, watered regularly and they are about 2 1/2 inches tall. I think soon we will have no danger of frost and will put the flats outside and water them. This is all according to your directions. My question is, at which point do the sprouts get moved from the flats and get planted in the ground? We are in the Hudson Valley area of New York.
    Thank you-

    • says


      No point being in a huge hurry. Just make sure they don’t root through the flat into the ground. If that happens you won’t be able to do anything with them until they are dormant. You can put the flat on plastic or put some slats under the flat. That will actually air prune the seedlings, which is a good thing. When they are 6″ tall or so you can move them then.

      • Bill Nilsen says

        Hello Mike,
        We have moved our plants outside, and put them on slats to air prune. The question is-when to water them and how much water to use? Is it possible to over/under-water them? Thanks again for your help! Bill Nilsen

  2. roy l mealer says

    mike ,
    have you ever made your own rooting harmone ? It was given to me about a year ago.
    Willow leaves and new growth chopped and made into rooting and groth harmone…….

  3. Michelle says

    I have been enjoying your emails
    the last two weeks you were recommended to me by a friend you have a lot of ideas I have been looking at small enterprise I have 31 acres on the north end of North Carolina I would like to talk to you more about what I should specialize in.I have sheep horses donkeysand a few cows I have started some gardening and would like to look at the plant and tree ideas how can I contact you

    • says


      I can’t do phones or Email. If I did that’s all I’d be doing all day. I suggest you start with my Backyard Growing System to get an idea what this is all about and learn the basis. Once you have the system there are ways to communicate with me. I know this sounds crazy but I have so little time now that I can’t possibly get on the phone with people. I am almost never on the phone with anyone unless I have to order products or plants. That’s the extent of my phone conversations. More here

  4. Richard Pike says


    Sorry this message isn’t about Chinese Dogwood.

    I was wondering. A few weeks ago I saw an article about propagating roses with you giving instructions. I am using water to propagate in. I am getting results out of this process, But then I don’t know where to go. I am not getting roots. I get caluses. When do I get roots? Do I wait until I get roots or do I go ahead and plant when the caluses get more defined.

    Actually I am getting mixed thoughts about using water as a propagation matter to get caluses.. Is there a better way? Do you recommend something else, a better way With it getting cold I am thinking about giving roses up for the year. Does that seem like a better way? I am setting cuttings into cold storage for next year.

    Thinking about getting into something else in plants. What do you suggest?

    Richard Pike

  5. Cheryl Nazzaro says

    Hi Mike,


    Thank you,

  6. CHERYL says


  7. Bob Winne says

    On the subject of Golden Curls willow, you posted some pictures around August, 2011, but I don’t remember if it was of cuttings, or just the plant itself

  8. Jayne says

    I have a dogwood grown from the seed of a Cherokee red. However each season the leves seem to curl up and it have never bloomed. It’s about 4 years old.

    • says


      It can take dogwoods a few years to bloom. Chances are yours will bloom white when it does. Cherokee Chief has to be budded or grafted in order to get red flowers.

  9. Margo says

    Lovely plant but my wish is that I could have it in zone 7 where I am, it is hardy up to zone 5 according to the internet.

    • jerry says

      you could pot it in a large container and bring it in during the winter..I’ve seen it done !

      Here, in zone 5 we can over winter figs, with care, of course. 😉

  10. says


    I found a plan for a shade garden and it called for a Milky Way Dogwood. I haven’t been able to find anyone that has a clue what it is or where to find one. Someone posted that it grows well in the full sun. Is it a full sun or full shade tree. I live in zone 7. Please help me find a plant as I need it now, as I am 72 years old and don’t have enough life span left to grow one from seed.

    Mrs. Margie

    • says


      Milky Way Dogwood is in the Chinese Dogwood family, Cornus Kousa. Milky Way will grow in full sun or shade. Any full service garden center might be able to track one down for you, they are pretty common.

  11. says

    Hi Guys I live in Ireland. Does anyone know if this plant will live in our wet and cold(ish) winters? if so and if anyone has any seeds to spare I would really appreciate it – many thanks

  12. Eugene Vincent says

    Hi i live in Mesa AZ I like the dogwood tree. my question is will it grow here? temp. r in the 100’s now thank 4 ur input. gene.

  13. TIM says


  14. says

    I have a Milky Way Chinese Dogwood that is full of blooms right now & I will have plenty of seed come fall.
    So if you, Mike, want I would be happy to send you the berries, for only postage, if you would send me your address via email. I would love to propigate those lovely trees, but I will be recovering from back surgery for several months now & not be physically able to do much of anything for possibly a year of more.

    • says


      No, I do not use a greenhouse for any of my growing. All of my plants are grown out in the elements. I no longer do any of my own grafting, I prefer to buy from others rather than heat a greenhouse.

      • Jennifer Ring says

        Hi, I am reading that these beautiful milky way dogwoods grow to 18′ tall! I read that your wife keeps it trimmed…how?
        Also, I have a lavender twist redbud tree that I would like to prune. I cut one branch off last winter and it left a scar. Yikes! Is this okay? I want it to look like your picture but perhaps I started when the tree was too mature?
        I also have an immature lavender twist that is tall with very little branching (looks like Charlie
        Brown’s Christmas tree!) Can I cut that top piece off this winter in hopes of training it to look like yours in the future?
        Thank you! Love your emails!
        Jennifer R

        • says


          Just prune that’s all, just prune when the plants need it, not when you think the time is ideal. We just trimmed about 100 Lavender Twist in the nursery today and we trimmed them a lot. Same for the dogwood, just trim it at least once or twice a season so it can’t grow any taller than you want it to be.

  15. Linda says


    How old and how tall is the tree in your picture? Also about what is the diameter? I want to order a tree on line. It won’t be shipped till late fall here in Memphis. Linda

  16. willam kosak says

    Will the Milky Way dogwood grow in Florida ? And if it can should i grow in full sun or shade.Thank you.

  17. Lou Rotondi says


    I would also be interested in purchasing the Milky Way Chinese Dogwood if you are selling. I think this is a good project to begin my backyard gardening. Thanks, Lou

  18. Judy Jeute says

    Thanks for all the great info; have been enjoying reading the daily emails. Do you know if the Dogwood variety that grows wild here in CO and goes to seed exactly as you describe is similar to this variety?
    Thanks so much,
    Double J Homestead
    Exotic Livestock, Down to Earth People

    • says

      You won’t find Milky Way growing wild. You probably have white dogwood, cornus kousa. Still a good market for those.

      • Judy Jeute says

        Thanks so much for the reply Mike; took LOTS of soft wood cuttings of those, currants, willows and another with some beautiful small white fluffy flowers on it that I am unfamiliar with… How bad is it that they are already blooming when I cut them?
        Kind regards,

  19. Shar says


    Do you have any Milky Way Chinese Dogwood trees which you are selling?

    Like always – GREAT info!

  20. vanessa mack says

    mike i wanted to try chinese dogwood its very hard to to grow jap maple here in saskatchewan very cold i buy 8 times & never grow . can send me even a seed of chinese dogwood just for trial. i will appreciate it very much

    • Rich Wood says


      I’ve got two Chinese Dogwoods in my yard and they both bloom like crazy every year and produce hundreds of pounds of the red berries. The cihpmonks plant them and the result is seedlings growing all over the place. I can give you some seeds this fall.


      • SUSAN SCHMIDT says

        Rich I would be interested in a seed or two+ this fall. let me kniow what is possible.? susan

      • Chrissie says

        Rich, I also would be interested in some seeds if you have extras. Please let me know if and when they are available and how much. Thank you.

      • Ruby says

        Guess you’ll get lots of requests for those seeds. Would like a couple also if you have enough. How tall do they grow? Tks.

    • jerry says

      I’d like a few seeds, too. On eBay a guy is selling them for $6.50 +/-. I’d send you $15 and assume the risk that you get it, and if you do, further assume the risk of you sending them thru the mail without anything but a stamp….I hope Mike isn’t upset about us using his blog 😉 … I can’t run a nursery at my condo; a few years ago, they threatened to sue me if I didn’t get rid of my plants….

  21. Domenick says

    I have a dogwood that bloomed like crazy last year. I didn’t collect the seeds however but will this year. Great flowers and I will try some softwood cuttings as well this year. Thanks Mike for the info on starting the seeds. Can you also do hardwood cuttings with this tree?

  22. Robb says


    The Dogwood photos are great. Where can I get some seeds that you trust and will they grow in a Zone 9? Thanks so much Do you sell the seedlings / plants?


  23. Casey says

    I have not seen this variety at the local places here. I wonder what zone they are? I am a 4-5. I have a dogwood that really has never grown all that much or has ever bloomed. The red twig style of dogwood is very hardy, but the flowering dogwood is hard to find out in this part of the country.
    As always your articles are very informative!
    Thank you Mike!

  24. Helen says

    Can you use that technique I once saw you do with the plastic container and the seed starter mix that you placed on the branch of a tree to root it while it was attached to the main plant?

  25. Helen says

    I have a Chinese dogwood and for the first time it Bloomed I got it from my brothers house it was growing besides the parent Chinese dogwood
    I’ve had it for 3. Yrs. now and can’t wait to see the berries I’ve red they are edible but I have chipmunks and can’t wait to see them go crazy over the rippened pods!

    • says


      You might be able to buy some seed online, but to be honest with you, there are some online seed suppliers that I just don’t trust to send what they claim they are sending and I’ll leave it at that. So you’d have to track down a plant locally that you could collect seed from. If you were to buy your own Milky Way Dogwood tree you’d have an endless supply of seed and you could sell the seedlings that you grow.

    • says


      That’s a tough question because you’d have to find a Milky Way dogwood, but you’d have to know for sure that it’s Milky Way. Best bet would be to buy a Milky Way Dogwood tree and have an endless supply of seeds. As you can tell from these comments, others would love to have some seed.

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