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Southern Gardening

English Dogwoods Thrive in the South

By Norman Winter

MSU Horticulturist
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center

Since moving to Mississippi almost five years ago, the mock orange or English dogwood (Philadephus coronarius) has really climbed the ladder in my mind of choice landscape plants. The huge, fragrant blooms last for weeks and make it one of the showiest plants of late spring.

If by some chance you are not familiar with this shrub, it is not a dogwood nor is it related to the orange. However, the flowers are as showy as the dogwood, and many have a fragrance as enticing as an orange.

Some well known horticulturists rat on the mock orange for its stiff upright habit, but its virtues outweigh the habit by a ton. When you realize they practically never lose blooms to late spring freezes, you realize another strong selling point. It is a long-lived shrub suitable as specimen-type plantings in the shrub border. They are suitable to corner plantings and as screens.

I have seen them look exceptional placed formally against fresh white lattice. I wish I could put an exact calendar on when they would bloom at your house, but I can't. Try planting with late blooming azaleas from the satsuki group or antique roses. When you see it in these settings, you begin to think of it more as an English dogwood rather than mock orange.

The fragrant and showy flowers are produced by the hundreds. The first couple of mock orange shrubs I put my nose into had little to no fragrance. Sounds kind of like roses, doesn't it? To make sure you have one of the highly fragrant selections, you need to purchase mock orange while in bloom. Wait until you see them at your garden center in late spring.

The English dogwood is hardy throughout the entire state. When choosing a site in your landscape, keep in mind the height will reach 5 to 8 feet and you will want to space them 4 to 6 feet apart. The soil needs to be moist but well drained.

Plant in full sun to partial shade. Prepare a bed for the mock orange by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and 2 pounds of a 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area, tilling deeply. Dig the planting hole three to five times as wide as the rootball, but no deeper. Place the mock orange in the hole and backfill with soil to two-thirds the depth. Tamp the soil and water to settle, add the remaining backfill, repeat the process and apply mulch.

Lucky for us there is not a lot of maintenance to these beautiful plants. Feed in late winter with a light application of an 8-8-8 fertilizer. Prune after blooming by removing old wood that will induce new stems for next year's flowers. Suckers at the base of the plant will form a clumping shrub. Remove any unwanted sprouts in the winter for use in other parts of the landscape.

The mock orange is usually sold generic, but occasionally a truck will slip in that has some of the named varieties. Keep your eyes open and you may find some of these such as Primuliflorus, Deutziflorus and Nanus.


Released: Jan. 24, 2000
Contact: Norman Winter, (601) 857-2284

Editor's Note: Ideal publication dates of Southern Gardening columns are within one month of their release. Editors should examine older columns carefully for any information that could be time sensitive.

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