Red Twig Dogwood 411
Grow this unusual shrub for both a winter accent and holiday décor.
One of the most popular plants for use in holiday decorations is one that can be enjoyed year round in the garden, especially in winter. Red twig dogwood sounds like a tree but is actually a twiggy shrub.
When not pruned, the shrub, Cornus sericea, grows up to 8 feet tall with a spread equally as wide. Because it’s characterized by its suckering growth, its stiff woody branches make great cuttings for accenting container gardens and floral compositions – both traditional and contemporary in style.
The shrub produces creamy-white flowers in spring and berries that ripen from green to white by fall. But it’s the stems of the red twig dogwood that are so popular; they start out green in spring and summer, then turn bright red as their foliage drops off in autumn. (Its medium green leaves produce great fall color of red and orange). The colder the temperature gets, the brighter the color of the youngest branches. In winter, the shrub shines, with its brilliant red twigs contrasted with a bleak – or even better, snowy – landscape.
Because of its loose form, red twig dogwood looks best when planted in groups or as an informal hedge. Hardy to zones 3 – 8, the shrub prefers full sun for best color but can tolerate part shade. It also thrives in organically rich, medium to wet soil and can even tolerate swampy or boggy conditions.
Red twig dogwood offers a number of cultivars, including the smaller, more compact ‘Arctic Fire’. In addition to the red stemmed varieties, there is a yellow one. Yellow twig dogwood, Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramia’, puts on quite a show when planted with its red cousin – and displayed with it as cuttings, too.
Red twig dogwoods are easy to care for. In late winter, prune older branches, which tend to lose their color over time. For maximum color, prune out one-third of the older branches at ground level every couple of years to promote new growth, which produces the best color. If the shrub becomes overgrown, cut all branches back to nine inches above ground to rejuvenate the plant. Feed the shrub once a year with a layer of compost or a sprinkling of slow-release fertilizer over its root zone.
Red twig dogwood propagates itself by stems, or stolons, that grow just under the ground. These stems can be divided to make new plants by placing cuttings from them in potting soil indoors.