Fire up the Landscape with Red Twig Dogwood

By: Jessie Keith

The bloodtwig dogwood ‘Midwinter Fire’ has some of the most brilliant branches for winter.

Fiery branches of gold, orange, and red rise from the winter garden, bringing color to the bleakest landscapes. There’s no better complement to evergreen and berried landscape shrubs than brilliant red twig dogwoods (Cornus sericea) and blood twig dogwoods (Cornus sanguinea). Their branches also look attractive in seasonal arrangements.

About Redosier Dogwoods

The fruits of redosier dogwood

Native to much of North America, redosier dogwood is a remarkably hardy, densely branched shrub (6-12’), growing as far north as Alaska where it survives in USDA Hardiness Zones 2-9. It naturally grows in moist areas or watersides and can even withstand slightly salty soils. It may exist under the shaded canopy of trees or in open sunny areas. In spring, it produces flat-topped clusters of white flowers. These are followed by whitish, berry-like fruits that appear later in the season. The bright green leaves turn shades of wine red or maroon in fall. The younger twigs of wild plants naturally turn shades of red in winter.

The bloodtwig dogwood is just as pretty, but it is Eurasian, inhabiting forested regions and wetland margins from northern Europe to western Asia. It performs in the landscape much like redosier dogwood, but its late-season fruits are black rather than white.

Redosier Dogwoods and Wildlife

Spring azure butterfly caterpillars feed on redosier dogwood foliage. (Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson)

The redosier dogwood has a unique relationship with certain pollinators. The flowers are visited by bees and butterflies, but the foliage is also the larval host of the spring azure butterfly, a beautiful blue butterfly found across much of North America. The bloodtwig dogwood also serves as the larval host plant to the less desirable casebearer moth. Many birds feed on the fruits and rely on the dense branching of these shrubs for nesting and shelter.

Varieties

The yellow twigged Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’ has pretty golden twigs in fall.

For brilliant twig color, few redosier dogwoods can beat the classic variety ‘Baileyi’. Its brilliant red branches glow in winter, and the dense shrubs reach up to 9’. A comparable cultivar is ‘Cardinal’, which offers good diseases resistance in addition to red twig color. The more compact redosier dogwood, Arctic Fire®, is a shorter form (6’) that has equally bright red stems. The equally compact bloodtwig dogwood, Arctic Sun®, has golden twigs tipped with orange and coral red, as does the slightly taller ‘Midwinter Fire’. The dwarf redosier dogwood ‘Kelseyi’ (3’) is the smallest of the red twig forms.

Yellow-twig forms are also striking. The best of these is ‘Flaviramea’ (8’), which develops bright yellow to greenish yellow twigs in winter.  The pretty ‘Silver and Gold’ is a variant of ‘Flaviramea’ with attractive variegated leaves edged in silver, in addition to yellow twigs. Another variety with handsome variegated foliage is ‘Hedgerows Gold’, which has golden-edged leaves that line deep red branches.

Planting

Cornus sericea Arctic Fire® (Proven Winners)

Twig color and growth is best when plants are planted in a sunny to partially sunny location. Choose a spot where the winter twigs will be most conspicuous—either an open area or against a darkly colored mass of evergreens or a substantial foundation. Mass plantings have the best winter effect and are great for stabilizing slopes or watersides.

Soil can be moist or well drained, but fertile soil with a pH of 5.0 to 7.5 is preferred. When planting a new shrub, dig a hole that is twice the size of the shrub’s root ball. Amend your backfill with Black Gold Garden Soil before planting, and set the shrub in the hole, making sure the root line and soil line are level. Fill in along the edges, and pack the soil down firmly to ensure good root-to-soil contact. Irrigate well after planting, and make sure newly planted shrubs stay well irrigated during the summer months.

Pruning and Maintenance

Cut old, overgrown branches to about 1-2’ from the ground.

The best twig color comes from younger branches, so it is important to regularly prune redosier dogwood in later winter to early spring. Cut old, overgrown branches to about 1-2’ from the ground to keep shrub height in check and encourage new growth. Pruning cuts should be made at a 45 degree angle. It is important to dip pruners in a 10% bleach solution when pruning each new shrub to avoid any chance of spreading common diseases.

Diseases

Close up of Septoria leaf spot. (USDA Forest Service)

Dogwood stem canker (Botryosphaeria dothidea) is the most notorious disease of these shrubs. It is a fungal disease that causes cankers and branch death. The disease enters the plant via cuts and lesions, which is why it is important to keep pruning tools clean when making cuts. Plants that become stressed are most susceptible to the disease.

This canker is manageable. Remove diseased stems by cutting several inches below the point of infection. Do this in dry weather and clean pruners between cuts. Remove and destroy diseased branches. Irrigating shrubs during dry spells will reduce stress and help ward off the disease. Choosing canker-resistant varieties, such as ‘Cardinal’ is also useful.

Septoria leaf spot is another common disease that causes unsightly black spots and early leaf shed on the summer leaves of red osier dogwood. The lower leaves are the first to show spotting. Several cultural steps can help to control Septoria leaf spot. First, thin overly dense branches to encourage air flow and reduce the chance of infection. The disease overwinters on infected leaf tissue, so remove all fallen leaves underneath the plant.

Redosier dogwood is a true landscape gem. Keep it well maintained, and it will reward you with bright warm color on cold winter days.

 

About Jessie Keith


Plants are the lens Jessie views the world through because they’re all-sustaining. (“They feed, clothe, house and heal us. They produce the air we breathe and even make us smell pretty.”) She’s a garden writer and photographer with degrees in both horticulture and plant biology from Purdue and Michigan State Universities. Her degrees were bolstered by internships at Longwood Gardens and the American Horticultural Society. She has since worked for many horticultural institutions and companies and now manages communications for Sun Gro Horticulture, the parent company of Black Gold. Her joy is sharing all things green and lovely with her two daughters.

Content Disclaimer:

This site may contain content (including images and articles) as well as advice, opinions and statements presented by third parties. Sun Gro does not review these materials for accuracy or reliability and does not endorse the advice, opinions, or statements that may be contained in them. Sun Gro also does not review the materials to determine if they infringe the copyright or other rights of others. These materials are available only for informational purposes and are presented “as is” without warranty of any kind, express or implied, including without limitation warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, and non-infringement. Reliance upon any such opinion, advice, statement or other information is at your own risk. In no event shall Sun Gro Horticulture Distribution, Inc. or any of its affiliates be liable to you for any inaccuracy, error, omission, fact, infringement and the like, resulting from your use of these materials, regardless of cause, or for any damages resulting there from.