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.
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.
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.
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.
Questions or comments? Post them below.