Insect Pests of Dogwoods

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Dogwoods are prized trees in North Carolina. They are the state “flower”, but they are also representative of the romantic, graceful ideas we have about North Carolina and the South. Their flowers contrasting with a blue sky are enough to make you stop in your tracks. We plant new ones with dreams they will accentuate our homes. For those of you who have an old specimen in your landscape, count yourself lucky.

Our beloved tree is also susceptible to many insects and diseases, and as the climate continues to shift and change, it is imperative to keep your tree healthy and to know what to look out for!


First Step in IPPM- Good Plant Health

The first step to integrated pest and pollinator management for any plant is to make sure you are giving the plant everything it needs to be healthy within your control. A healthy plant will more than likely be able to withstand pest and disease infestations that can come and go naturally through the years. Make sure to test the soil and apply the appropriate amount of soil amendments that are needed. Apply mulch about 2-4 inches thick around the root zone, but NOT against the trunk of the tree! Reduce the amount of grass within the drip-line of the tree, as grass roots are more competitive than tree roots. If we go through a severe drought and you can spare some water, apply additional irrigation during hot, dry times. It is really that simple!

Ambrosia Beetles

The tiny Ambrosia beetle can cause some big damage! As spring arrives, so do the chances of ambrosia beetles infecting your trees. They are attracted to stressed trees in the landscape or in nurseries. The beetles burrow into the trunks of trees, which leaves tassels of wood frass hanging from the trees. These can be blown off

Dogwood Tree Damage

Ambrosia beetles can be destructive landscape and nursery pests in North Carolina. These tassels of chewed wood are a tell-tale sign of ambrosia beetle infestation. Photo by SD Franks, NCSU.

by the wind and rain but are helpful in identifying infested trees, so it is important to monitor susceptible trees. Once the female beetle makes her burrow and galleries inside the tree, she inoculates the tree with a fungus, which she will feed to her offspring. This fungus is what can eventually kill the plant, as it clogs the vascular system of the plant, starving it of water and nutrients. Any infested tree can have one to 100 beetles living inside of it. Dogwoods are just one of its many hosts.

Dogwood Twig Borer

Another beetle pest is the dogwood twig borer. The beetle bores into small twigs of dogwood (and other species!) and lay an egg in the vascular tissue of the stem. The larva, which look like worms, eat the center of the twigs, which cause the stem to dieback. The damage is usually most evident in the summer. It is easy to identify the tell-tale bore holes and to cut the wilted branch off and burn it.

Dogwood Borer

The dogwood borer is the larva of a clear-wing moth! This pest requires a wound or opening in the trunk where the female moth can lay an egg and the caterpillar can get inside. The larva feeds for a season and pupates inside of the bark. This pest doesn’t necessarily outright kill the tree, but perennial infestations can impact the vascular system of the plant as it tries to cover and seal off the wounds caused by the feeding larva.

Dogwood Sawfly

Few things cause a gardener to have a moment of panic like something eating the leaves of their beloved plants. We are now learning how to be better about this knee-jerk reaction, as not all insect damage is bad (in fact, most of it is natural, normal, and okay for the plant involved!). The dogwood sawfly is one of these moments. The sawfly larvae look like caterpillars as they chew through the leaves of your dogwoods, but it turns out they are actually going to eventually turn into a sawfly, which is a type of wasp! Unless an infestation is overwhelming a tree, no action is necessary, besides maybe giving your tree some extra water and care as it regrows leaves to replace the ones eaten.


If you think your plants have been infested with an insect, please reach out to your local N.C. Cooperative Extension Office for assistance. We can help you identify the pest and make a recommendation for treatment using research-based science.


Tree Health Information from NC State

General Dogwood Pests

Pest-specific Pages from NC State:

Ambrosia Beetle Pests of Nursery and Landscape Trees

Dogwood Twig Borer

Dogwood Borer

Dogwood Sawfly