Plant of the month: Dogwood (December)

Liven up your winter garden with the vibrant colour of dazzling dogwood (cornus alba) stems.

When all the flowers have felt the cold, frosty nights and have withered away into nothing it can be hard to find plants that will give some interest over the winter. Dogwood comes into its own on a sunny winter’s day and with the backdrop of frost or against pure white snow it stands out brilliantly in crimson red.

Pruning and training

Shrubby Cornus cultivars grown for their winter stem colour should be pruned back hard every to encourage new growth, which has the best colour. This is called coppicing.

  • Traditionally, shrubby cornus were pruned in February or March
  • Recent case studies have shown that pruning annually in late March to mid-April (as the new growth is just beginning to develop) is preferable. This later pruning allows the winter display to be enjoyed, but doesn’t currently appear to have negative consequences from bleeding or the cutting off of some new growth
  • It should be noted that less frequent pruning – every two to three years – is best where the growing conditions are poor and shady
  • Newly planted cornus often benefit from not being pruned for the first two to three years while they establish – the general rule of thumb is to begin pruning as normal once the plants are growing strongly

Propagation

Species plants can be propagated from seed, but named cultivars will not come true to type from seed and are better propagated from hardwood or greenwood cuttings. Variegated cultivars of C. controversa (the wedding cake tree) and C. alternifolia (the pagoda dogwood) are usually grafted commercially in winter, but may also be propagated at home from cuttings.

Cultivar Selection for winter stem colour