Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’

When is the best time to move it from one site to another please?

Big b


Hello there The best time to move a deciduous plant is when it is dormant between October to March.

2017-01-17 Can you suggest other plants which would go well in a large bed with this cornus? Obviously it will be the centre piece but will need under planting/companion planting .


2016-09-22 2016-09-28


I have had a cornus controversa for over 10 years now. The problem is that although it has tiers and looks very healthy it has grown in width but not height . The width is probably about 10 ft and height at the end of the branches about 5 ft but the middle of the tree about 4 ft. I have put garden compost on every year and fed the tree. What am I doing wrong . The tree is variegated, I have a lot of green shoots come at the base every year which I cut off.



Hello, I am not sure that you have done anything wrong, but it does sound as though the crown may have suffered some damage at some point. The good news is that given time the tree will recover and it will start to put on more height.



Is it possible to grow the cornus controversy in a large pot? Thanks



Hello, These are quite large plants, so are better suited to being planted out in the ground.



Hi I purchased a wedding tree last year , as loved the shape We have large weed looking leaves below the graft, attached to the tree ( tree is in a pot) Can you advise please



Hello, If your tree is grafted, then you should remove any growth coming from below the graft union as soon as it appears.



Is it possible to grow this in a pot? I saw the tree for the first time today and bought a small plant. Is it possible to keep it in a large plant pot rather than planting it out in the garden border?



Hello, It will be quite happy in a really large pot for a couple of years (provided it is kept really well fed and watered), however ultimately it will be much happir in the ground.



just a small bit of lawn I wanted to have a little tree as a feature, but this seems a bit big in terms of width and height?? Can you keep it down at all or does it just loose its shape? Maybe better to stick with some kind of crab apple or flowering cherry? Thanks


2016-06-10 2016-06-17


I have a cornus wedding cake tree which has been in the ground for 18 months. It was in full bud and then there was a late frost everything is now blackened and appears dead, what can I do??



Hello, This is such a shame, although late frosts have hot may plants badly this year. I’m afraid there is little you can do now though apart from feed it and water it and in time it will start to put on lots of fresh new growth.



How well will cornus controversa variegate withstand frost? We have damp, rich acid soil, in which rhododendrons grow. But we are in north east Fife, Scotland and have ground frosts up to the end of May.



Hello there This plant is fully hardy so it should be fine. If you have a really heavy frost then possibly new tender shoots could be caught, but this plant is meant to tolerate most aspects and likes a moist, acidic, fertile, well drained soil. Hope this helps

2016-03-31 My cornus contraversa variegata looks fabulous in full leaf but has not one flower this year. Can you tell me why? I am paying attentions now to when it is best pruned as it is growing over a pathway so needs a little pruning. I understand it is to be pruned in late winter or early spring. It is about six years old.



Hello there There are a number of reasons why plants don’t flower including too much shade or not enough water or nutrients. I am not really sure why yours has not produced flowers this year, but given time and the right conditions, there is no reason why it shouldn’t flower again. You can often give them a bit of a push by making sure it is kept well watered and feed it during the growing season with a high potash fertiliser. Regarding pruning these plants don’t like hard pruning , so if you want to remove a couple of branches it is important that that you take it slowly, tackling perhaps one branch each year – any pruning should be undertaken from autumn to early spring. Hope this helps.


Outstanding Qualities

Variegated giant dogwood (or wedding cake tree, as it is sometimes called) can be summed up in one word -spectacular! Although often awkward looking in youth, these ‘ugly ducklings’ become swans as they mature. The branches of this tree are held out in horizontal tiers with brightly variegated leaves, giving the appearance of snow-white frosting spread over the branches. In May, this dogwood produces delicate, lacy white flowers that are followed in late summer by deep black berries. The berries glisten against the variegated leaves and are a favorite of birds.

Quick Facts

Plant Type: spreading tree

Foliage Type: deciduous

Plant Height: 15 ft. 0 in. (4.57 meters)

Plant Width/Spread: 15 ft. 0 in. (4.57 meters)

Plant Height-Mature: 35 ft. 0 in. (10.67 meters)

Plant Width-Mature: 25 ft. 0 in. (7.62 meters)

Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 to 8

Flower Color: white

Sun/Light Exposure: light to open shade

Water Requirements: regular watering in well drained soil, clay, or sandy soils

Wildlife Associations: bees, butterflies

Colors & Combos

Great Color Contrasts: dark green, white

Great Color Partners: silver, burgundy, bronze

Cornus controversa ‘VARIEGATA’

This giant dogwood has another name which, in my opinion, characterizes the plant much better = wedding cake tree. Looking at the habit of the more commonly grown cultivar Variegata one knows exactly what it means. This beauty can easily become a show-stopping specimen in a garden of literally any style. Its tiered branches look exactly like several layers of a wedding cake and the white-variegated foliage stands for rich sugary icing. Want a piece?
The leaves are elliptic, deciduous, mid green in the middle with rich white margins. They are always pendent and a bit wavy. They emerge bronze pink and gain the pink shade again in early autumn when they fade to pink and yellow. Flowers are 10-15 cm wide, white-green, flat corymbs which are not particularly exquisite but look great in profusion on a mature plant. They come out in mid spring.
This gorgeous small tree (or a large shrub) needs time to show its assets. Deep burgundy red young stems grow rapidly upright first, making 50 or more centimeters per year. But the following couple of years the plant only makes strictly horizontal, 10-20 cm long shoots to fill up the habit. In 3-4 years the plant is strong enough to produce another long shoot upwards and the whole scenario repeats. In 10 years you have a fantastic plant about 2m tall and 1.5m wide.
Dogwood is quite soil adaptable but hates water-logging. For best results grow it in full sun in semi-fertile, slightly moist soil. No fertilizing or pruning will bring you a beautiful plant of a unique shape. Fully hardy to min. -30°C (USDA zone 5), possibly more.
Last update 25-02-2010

Wedding Cake Dogwood: Information For Growing A Giant Dogwood Tree

The giant dogwood has such an appealing appearance that it’s also known as wedding cake tree. This is due to its tiered branch structure and elegantly variegated white and green leaves. Wedding cake tree care for young plants should be consistent until establishment but mature variegated giant dogwood trees are quite hardy and tolerant provided they are kept moist. Read on to learn more about this interesting flowering dogwood variety.

Giant Dogwood Information

The wedding cake dogwood has the grown up moniker Cornus controversa ‘Variegata.’ This lovely tree grows up to 50 feet tall but more commonly 25 to 30 in height. It is a native of Asia, which can be planted in United States Department of Agriculture zones 5 through 8. These trees are easy to grow and susceptible to only a few pests and diseases.

The wedding cake dogwood is a fast growing tree that does well in either partial shade or full sun. The limbs are horizontal, giving the

appearance of layering, but as the plant matures they tend to droop a bit. In spring, it produces a brilliant display of creamy white flowers. An interesting nugget of giant dogwood information reveals these flowers to be leaves. The flowers are actually bracts, or modified leaves, that form around the very tiny and mundane real flower. The flowers develop into bluish-black berries that are favorites of birds, squirrels and other animals.

In fall, the leaves turn a rich red and in spring the bright green tops of new leaves compliments the variegated silvery white tinged under leaves.

Growing a Giant Dogwood Tree

These trees are not found in many nurseries, but if you are lucky enough to find one, take care to situate it in a good location and provide basic wedding cake tree care as it establishes.

The best place for variegated giant dogwood trees is in slightly acidic soil where there is dappled lighting. It will also perform well in full sun situations.

You can plant it in either clay or loam but the soil should be slightly moist but not boggy. Take care to provide enough space above and on the sides for the adult height and spread of this majestic tree.

Cornus controversa Variegata

Product Details

Small Cornus controversa Variegata are 1-1.5m tall, as per image.

Cornus controversa Variegata is a variegated variety of the true Wedding Cake tree, Cornus controversa, that was introduced in the 1890’s. It is often the variegated one to which people associate the common name, Wedding Cake tree.

As the name suggests, this stunning tree grows to form distinct layers with each new year of growth, giving the tree a tiered effect that is evident from a young age. This specimen is a variegated form, with attractive cream to white margined leaves appearing in spring accompanied by a pink blush that gradually dulls. The flowers are produced shortly after the foliage, creamy in colour, hanging in clusters from the tree.

Cornus controversa Variegata is a truly stunning specimen, which is a site to behold when at its best. This Wedding Cake tree is for the patient amongst us; it is slow growing, prefers well drained soils and a sheltered aspect.

Whilst the Variegated Wedding Cake tree is an unusual specimen to see planted, it is extremely desirable and makes a fantastic addition to any arboretum collection and indeed makes a very good focus point in a garden with both its colour and distinct shape providing interest. At Barcham we have these as small specimens, so if you are not a patient gardener it is best to take a look at the green version, which will bring satisfaction quickly!


Be careful when planting trees in your garden

When designing a new garden, trees really should be the first feature to be considered, but great care must be taken as some have damaging root systems and should be avoided in small gardens, says Peter Dowdall.

Trees are natures carbon mops, filtering out many of the pollutants in our air and creating a fresher, more enjoyable environment.

In any garden much thought should be given to the choice of tree — and the smaller the garden the more important this becomes.

A tree is going to be a commanding feature and if the garden is small, then it willquickly outgrow its space, crowding out theplot and taking it over.

When designing a new garden, trees really should be the first feature to be considered — from where are they to be planted, to which variety to choose, and how tall and wide the variety will get.

Bear in mind what it will look like in 10 and 20 years time and be mindful of the aspect in which you are planting your specimen.

If your choice is going to grow upwards of five metres, is it going to stop the sun from hitting your garden, or will make your house very dark.

Some trees have a damaging root system and should be avoided in all but the largest of gardens.

The most infamous variety in this part of the world is the variegated poplar or Populus candicans (pictured below).

I say infamous because about 30 years ago there must have been some garden centre or nursery who made millions — as every second garden, if not more, seemed to have one of these attractive looking trees growing in its midst.

The aesthetically pleasing foliage is what the tree is grown for, new growth starting off a blush pink as the buds open in spring, opening up to full leaves of white mixed with green.

It was recommended for small gardens as it was marketed as dwarf. But dwarf was meant in poplar terms, it can still reach a height over 10 metres or 30 feet.

But the reason for its infamy, and why I could never recommend it as a garden plant is that the root system is a menace.

It’s a quick-growing tree and to produce that speedy growth, the roots travel far and fast in search of water and nutrients allowing next to nothing to stop it in its quest.

Loving septic tanks and leaking water pipes, these have provided the thirsty roots with much loved moisture.

Poplars will do untold damage to these tanks and pipes as soon as they get a hold, as well as patios, footpaths — even house foundations don’t prove a deterrent to these vigorous bullies.

I have often seen suckers appearing from the root system in the middle of lawns up 20 metres away from the original plant and indeed the roots can travel up to 60 metres wreaking havoc as they go.

It was only after about ten or more years, that this structural damage became apparent to garden owners and people were clamouring to get them out of their gardens — as much as they sought to get them into them 10 years previously.

Most trees, you will be glad to hear, are much better behaved, but it does illustrate the point that some time and thought should be given to choosing what is going to be an imposing influence — and friend — in your garden over the next number of years.

If choosing for pure elegance and as a statement piece then, provided your garden is big enough, look no further than Cornus contraversa variegata.

Known as the Wedding Cake Tree because the branches create a fabulous tiered effect as the tree matures, it really is a living work of art. It’s slow growing however.

As a poor student this gardener purchased one for my parents 25th wedding anniversary, I still remember, it cost me £200 punts and believe me that hurt as a student, but being the perfect son I arrived home from Orchardstown Garden Centre in Waterford where I was doing my work experience year, one weekend with the Cornus. Now 25 years later it has developed into a magnificent specimen.

However, during the intervening years I had to stop myself from pruning it and interfering with the shape — and thank God I did.

It often looked like it needed attention and bits looked wrong, but as is often the case with nature, once left to its own devices it has blossomed into something really special.

You do need a garden of a certain size for it will grow to an eventual height of 8 to 10 metres with a diameter of five to six metres. One of the finest specimens you are likely to see in Ireland can be seen in Mary Byrne’s garden, ‘Hillside’ in Annmount, Glounthaune.

This garden is open from time to time and for groups. Next time you see it advertised, make your way to see the Cornus, if nothing else.

Cornus alterniafolia argentea the Silver Pagoda Dogwood, will provide you with the same statement piece, but with an altogether more delicate feeling, the leaves being slightly smaller, indeed the overall height and spread will be less than that of contraversa variegata, never growing higher than 4 metres.

Similarly Cornus alternifolia ‘Golden Shadows’ will remain relatively low and is an ideal choice for a small or medium specimen tree.

It’s beautiful shape and habit is further complimented by the green and gold foliage which takes on beautiful copper hues during the autumn before it sheds totally for the winter.

All of the Cornus or Dogwoods mentioned will produce panicles of white flowers during spring but often go largely unnoticed on ‘Variegata’ and ‘Argentea’ as the foliage is similar in colour but on ‘Golden Shadows’ the contrast between foliage and flower is another reason to introduce this beauty to your garden.

Digging deep: Anna Pavord answers a reader’s query about coping with our changing climate, and gives some sound advice on what to plant and when to plant it

‘Like many others, I am anxious about the effects of global warming on my garden,’ writes Mrs Jean Smith of Beaminster in Dorset. ‘This summer some of my plants, particularly a Cornus controversa ‘ Variegata’, have suffered in the hot, dry weather and I would appreciate help in choosing trees and other plants that will not be so affected by the new climate.’

Mrs Smith has asked a clear question and has every right to expect a clear answer. But I can’t give it, doubting, as I do, whether even the most professional brains in the climate business are sufficiently well equipped to understand its complexities. We amateurs aren’t helped by the fact that the brains so rarely seem to agree. Models are made, outcomes predicted, but they swoop about all over the place, depending on who has forgotten to put what into the mix.

We’ve had a hot summer, yes, but nowhere near so damaging in the garden as the summer of 1976. Some plants have certainly suffered more than others this year, but the key to survival is not only choosing the right plant, but planting it at the right time and in the right place.

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There are several reasons why autumn-planted trees and shrubs have a better success rate than spring-planted ones. The soil is still warm from summer – especially this autumn – and provides a more inviting medium for roots to explore than the dank, chilly soils of spring. Leaves are falling now, or have already fallen, so the tree or shrub does not have to slog like a steam engine to pump up enough water through the roots to satisfy the greenery above. Lack of water is the biggest single reason for death in newly planted trees. Perhaps a third of them never make it through their first summer in the garden.

As the overhead network of leaves and shoots shuts down for winter, trees and shrubs divert their energy underground and rapid root growth takes place between leaf fall and the New Year, by which time the ground has cooled down. But a plant that has had the opportunity to get its roots well established during this time is much better equipped to survive during the explosion of growth in spring and through the potential stresses of a hot, dry summer to come.

There’s another reason why I like to do the bulk of my planting in November and December. The nursery lifting season traditionally starts on Guy Fawkes Day, which means I now have the choice of buying plants bare-rooted rather than container-grown. A plastic pot is a measly thing for a tree to be reared in, when we know that its root spread ought to be as extensive as the spread of branches above. Roots in a container get horribly crowded, and the main anchors coil themselves in a heap which is very difficult to sort out at planting time.

Trees and shrubs that are field-grown and lifted just before dispatch have a much more generous and balanced root system as they have never been pressed for space. The roots are generally trimmed a little after lifting to make a manageable bundle, but even so, you end up with a much more generous and well-balanced root ball.

Even in the autumn, there are no short cuts to proper planting. First douse your tree or shrub with water (if it is in a container) or soak it in a bucket of water (if it is bare-rooted). Never leave a bare-rooted plant lying around uncovered. If we could hear it, it would be screaming.

Dig a decent hole for the plant. Decent in this context means large enough for the roots to lie comfortably spread out without any cheating on your part. This is important. If the soil is particularly thin or viciously unyielding, work some compost or well-rotted manure into the bottom of the hole, chopping it in with the edge of your spade.

I usually add a handful of bonemeal at this stage, as it is rich in phosphates which encourage root growth. Save other fertilisers for spring when the plant will be needing nitrogen to support leaf growth. Stand the plant in the hole and check that it is the right depth. There is usually a dark mark on the stem that shows where the final earth level should be. A stick laid across the planting hole will show whether the tree is sitting at the right depth.

Cover the roots with a little soil, wobbling the plant gently so that the earth settles down well round it. Then fill up the hole with earth, pausing at the halfway mark to tread down the soil carefully. Don’t stamp. Roots need air as well as water. If you think your tree should have a stake, put this in before you plant, not after, and use a proper rubber tie with a spacer that you can adjust as the tree grows – otherwise you’ll throttle it.

I’ve never had a Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ but ordered one this year for the new garden. It’s a fantastic eye-catcher, with branches whorling out in horizontal tiers, like a wedding cake. But it’s slow growing and I fully understand why Mrs Smith has been so worried about losing it. Because they are slow, they are always expensive. As it happens, this variegated cornus, usually grafted on to the rootstock of a tougher dogwood, should not be planted in autumn. The safest time to plant is not while it is dormant, but when growth starts again in spring. The same applies to pot-grown magnolias, which are best kept slightly on the dry side through winter and planted out in spring, as they break their dormancy.

Michael Haworth-Booth, the fine plantsman who wrote Effective Flowering Shrubs, a classic of the Fifties, thought nothing of preparing a planting bed six feet in diameter for his Japanese and Chinese cornus ( Cornus controversa comes from those parts). ‘Much can be done by regular mulching and top-dressing, it is true,’ he wrote, ‘but it is never the equal of a bed really well made at the start which is also kept mulched and thus provides a large ‘sponge’ affording a continuous supply of liquid nourishment, which is, after all, the only kind in which trees are interested.’ He also pointed out that these Chinese and Japanese dogwoods hate being pruned and that any cut may result in instant death.

So having got all that stuff about planting in the right way and at the right time off my chest, next week I’ll suggest some trees and shrubs that, given this help, might have a fighting chance of getting through another summer of heat and drought. Whether they will survive our winters, which the experts predict will be wetter than they have been, is of course another matter.

Click images to enlarge.


Branches grow in layers, giving this medium sized, deciduous tree a tiered appearance when in leaf. The foliage is mid green with thick, creamy-white borders and turns yellow in autumn. Clusters of small cream/white flowers appear in summer, followed by attractive fruits which turn from green to pink then to deep purple/black.

What to use it for

A great focal point (when the foliage is out) and good for low maintenance gardening. Has wildlife benefit as birds eat the berries.

How to look after it

Requires little or no care beyond the initial training (see below).

How to prune it

Train as a central leader standard tree, keeping the trunk clear for about a quarter or a third of the tree’s height. Once established keep pruning to a minimum, just removing dead, diseased, damaged or reverting growth. Any pruning should be carried out from autumn to early spring. It does not like to be hard pruned.

How to propagate it

Softwood cuttings can be taken in late spring or early summer, or plants can be grafted.

Common problems

Cornus anthracnose and die back can be a problem, as can viral diseases. Horse chestnut scales may also infest the plant.

Reversion can occasionally affect the variegated foliage.

If planted in an exposed site the wind can effectively ‘prune‘ the windward side of the tree, reducing its growth and giving the plant a lopsided appearance. It is difficult to rectify this once the damage has been done.

Other useful information

This plant has been given the Award of Garden Merit by the RHS.

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