Along the Garden Path: Red twig dogwood in the winter garden


Growing a red twig dogwood is a great way to add spectacular color to the winter garden. The stems, which are green in spring and summer, turn bright red when the foliage drops off in autumn. The shrub produces creamy-white flowers in spring and berries that ripen from green to white by the end of summer. Both fruits and flowers look good against the dark background of the foliage, but pale in comparison to the brilliant winter display.

Don’t confuse red twig dogwood trees with other dogwood trees. While both the tree and the shrub belong to the Cornus genus, red twig dogwoods never grow to become trees. There are two species of Cornus called red twig dogwoods: Tatarian dogwood and Redosier dogwood. The two species are very similar.

Red twig dogwood is one of those plants where more is better. They look fantastic when planted in groups or as an informal hedge. They grow up to 8 feet tall with an 8 foot spread so you’ll want to give them plenty of space. Overcrowding encourages diseases and causes less attractive, thin stems.

Red twig dogwood care is minimal except for pruning. Annual pruning is essential to keep the brilliant colors of the twigs. The primary goal of pruning red twig dogwoods is to remove the old stems that no longer show good winter color.

Remove about a third of the stems at ground level every year. Cut out old, weak stems as well as those that are damaged, discolored, or growing poorly. This method of pruning keeps the color bright and the shrub vigorous. After thinning you can shorten the stems to control the height if you’d like. Cut back the entire shrub to 9 inches above the ground if it becomes overgrown or out of control. This is a good way to quickly renew the plant, but it leaves a bare spot in the landscape until it regrows.

If you are decorating your outside containers and you need to fill your pots but want to keep it simple, think of these terrific ideas that add color without too much green.

For a simple, modern pot, lay a wreath on the top of a container, making sure it’s big enough to overhang the edge. Then form a bundle of red twig dogwood or curly willow, wrap it with a wire and cover the wire with a festive ribbon. Stick the bundle in the wreath hole and wedge it into the dirt (make sure it’s fresh, not frozen potting soil).

If your container can withstand the weather, plant a small boxwood or evergreen. But remember, because it’s a living plant, you’ll need to water it throughout the winter.

Even if you stick with the less expensive fillers, you can still make a beautiful pot. Visit your local garden center and purchase two different kinds of boughs (for example, white pine and balsam). After filling your pot with fresh dirt, start with balsam and insert the boughs facing upside down, so it overhands the edge. Next, grab your white pine and insert the boughs facing up. Alternating directions creates texture and fullness. Then pop in some finishing touches like red twig dogwood, winterberries, even seedheads or dried hydrangea blooms from your garden.

Happy decorating!

By Charlene Thornhill

Charlene Thornhill is a volunteer citizen columnist, who serves The Daily Advocate readers weekly with her community column Along the Garden Path. She can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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