The Garden Spotter

Color Your Winter With Red Twig Dogwood


red-twig-dogwood It seems to me that the most successful gardeners are those who can maintain some color in their yards throughout the year, even in winter.  Many of us are focused on shorter term gratification, however, and think little beyond planting annuals that last from spring to autumn. But isn’t it winter that finds us most in need of a bit of cheering up? The leafless trees and shrubs offer little solace from days of gray skies. Unless, of course, those exposed branches offer some color, like that of Red Twig Dogwood.

Red Twig Dogwood is a tall, very fast spreading shrub when left to its whims.  It’s actually a native plant to most of the United States, occurring naturally in low, swampy areas. The Red Twig Dogwood can be grown successfully in most garden zones, and thrives in a rich humus soil in full sun, although it will tolerate a variety of conditions.  A deciduous plant, Cornus sericea or Red Osier Dogwood, produces lovely large frothy white flowers and dark green leaves and then blueish berries through the summer. In winter, the barren branches show light pink, dark cardinal red, or gold, depending on the cultivar. The color is further enhanced with judicious pruning in late winter or early spring to remove the dead branches.


In the home landscape, Red Twig Dogwood is a lovely contrast to the snow, and works in harmony with evergreens and pines. It can stand alone as an accent or serve as a shrub or as a valuable property boundary. In the spring, it’ll provide a beautiful backdrop for early bulbs such as tulips and daffodils, and Red Twig Dogwood is exquisite as a bed for a stand of white birch.

Forget about this winter, for a moment, because it is too late to plant anything new (at least here in zone 5b/6a it is). But if you want to plan for next season, you can begin preparing an area for planting one or more plants come spring and thinking about how to best show off the spectacular red branches next winter. I’d advise purchasing from a local reputable nursery; these plants should be your healthiest best bet for success.

The lesson I hope is noted here is that while we are accustomed to thinking about gardens mainly in terms of summer gardens, the best garden schemes, the ones that give us real joy, are those that offer something year round. And early winter is the perfect time to start thinking about next year. When we can start to look at our yards and gardens as a year round endeavor, then I’d say, as gardeners, we have evolved.

More information on growing Red Twig Dogwood:

Missouri Botanical Garden

Local sources:

Knox-Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District

Maine Buffer Plant List

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