Winter Dogwoods by Martin Blow
In winter after leaves have dropped and plants have been cut back and tidied, the bare bones of the garden come to the fore and add shape, texture, and sometimes colour in the low angled sun. Few small shrubs add more colour than the Winter Dogwoods (Cornus alba, Cornus sericea and Cornus sanguinea).
The young stems are highly coloured red, yellow, orange, almost black and lime green depending on variety, creating a stunning display through the winter months. The autumn display of colouring leaves is almost as striking with red, orange and gold tones clothing the stems in October before they fall.
These are suckering shrubs that form good sized clumps over the years in sun or light shade. If left unpruned they will grow into medium to large shrubs perhaps about 5-8ft / 150-240cm tall, but as the stems get older their colour fades.
To enjoy their most vivid colours it’s best to cut off a third to a half of the stems nearly to the ground in late winter before new growth starts. Lots of new, vigorous, straight stems will start to grow providing a blazing display by the next winter. Each year cut back the older stems, creating a rotation of new stems on the plant. This will keep the plants to 3ft / 90cm in height. It is also possible to cut all the stems off in winter to maintain a smaller size.
The best known tall variety is “Siberica” with bright red stems and vigorous growth looking brilliant against winter skies. The lime green “Flaviramea” is equally as striking. For the most intense flaming orange stems the varieties of Cornus sanguinea outshine everything else; “Midwinter Fire” and “Winter Flame” are both very good.
Darker red is “Elegantissima”, but for almost black stems “Kesselringii” is the popular choice and looks wonderful in winter mixed with the brighter coloured varieties especially the green “Flaviramea” or perhaps planted with the white barked Himalayan Birch.
Dogwoods also have white flowers in summer and unpruned bushes produce white, pale purple or bluish berries in autumn that provide a good food source for birds.
They are best planted in soil that doesn’t get too boggy. For use in a border, plant them around 3ft / 1m apart. They also make good informal hedges, although not an impenetrable screen. For this plant at 2ft / 60cm gaps.
New plants can be produced from hardwood cuttings – the prunings can be used for this – they take a year to root before transplanting to their new home. Longer stems can be “layered” by pinning to the ground. New roots will grow where they touch the soil. Once well rooted cut the stem from the parent just before the rooted part and leave it where it is for a few weeks to recover before moving to its new home.
Dogwoods are one of the stars of the winter garden and whether planted in drifts or lines or just a single plant they’re sure to give you joy in the dark days of winter.
Janet & I organise Plant Hunters’ Fairs, specialist plant fairs at wonderful locations. Middleton Hall, Nr Tamworth, B78 2AE on Sunday 3rd April. Bodenham Arboretum, DY11 5TB on Saturday 9th April. Weston Park, TF11 8LE on Sunday 1st & Monday 2nd May. 1620’s House and Garden, Nr Coalville, LE67 2FW on Sunday 15th May. For a full list of all our 2022 plant fairs please visit www.planthuntersfairs.co.uk. Please check website for ticketing information and all the latest updates before travelling.