photo: leaf curl on kousa dogwood
Never forget the adage: "the right plant in the right location". In USDA hardiness zone 7 and warmer parts of zone 6-b, Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa) does not cope with excessive summer heat well. A typical stress response is leaf curling. On more stressful droughty sites, leaf margins and centers will likely burn.
The young tree pictured above is planted along a suburban street, with a concrete sidewalk and street curb on two sides. Thick turf sod covers the ground beneath the tree, competing with the tree for available soil moisture and nutrients. On a hot 90°F day, this tree is likely to experience heat indices above 120°F.
Likely, the tree will survive, but not bloom dependably every spring. Leaf burning and curling reduce the tree’s ability to photosynthesize, resulting in less (or more) flower bud set. The tree will either flower poorly or bloom heavily in future springs, resulting in an alternate flowering cycle or "biennial bearing".
Kousa dogwood will handle full sun locations, provided heat and drought stresses are managed through timely irrigation. Currently, the University of Tennessee is evaluating several seedling kousa selections for better heat and drought tolerances here in the mid-South.