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Cornus – Dogwoods - The Beauty of Winter Stem Colour


Dogwoods are often planted in public places, for they stand up to wilful or accidental vandalism quite well. ‘Professionals’ did the pruning, in the picture above. That is to say that the people who did the pruning, and also the people who supervised it, were paid to do the job. It could so easily have been carried out by someone who had a grudge against Cornus!

There are a number of different Cornus (Dogwoods) in general use. Some need to be cut back each year, whilst others need no pruning whatever.

Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’

The dogwoods that are grown for their spectacular stem effect (ignore the picture above) are usually cultivars of Cornus alba, C. stolonifera and C. sanguineum. As well as the stem colour, several have brightly variegated or coloured foliage. The best being C. alba ‘Sibirica Variegatum’, C.alba ‘Elegantissima’, C.alba ‘Spaethii’, and C.stolonifera ‘White Gold’.  

Cornus alba ‘Spaethii’

Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’ has bright green stems from leaf-fall through until they are pruned in march. They tend to spread through suckering stolons, so are good for bold plantings. The summer foliage – which hides the stem colour – is simply green and not particularly interesting. There is a form - C. stolonifera ‘White Gold’ that has excellent white-edged variegated foliage, and therefore makes a good dual season plant. The foliage colour and effect is also enhanced, by the hard pruning regime.

 

Cornus sanguineum Magic Flame in the foreground, with the almost-black stems of C. alba Kesselringii to the left, and the taller Salix alba Yelverton providing the backdrop in this spectacular winter border at Broadview Gardens, Hadlow college, Kent. (The Salix gives added height to the border, together with a slightly different colour and form to that of the dogwoods. 

The importance of ‘light’ cannot be stressed enough in choosing an area for your dogwood. Bear in mind that the sun is at a much lower angle in the winter so choose a spot where the stems will be caressed by evening sun for best results.

To get this spectacular winter stem effect with dogwoods, it is necessary to cut the shrubs back hard each spring. Mid-March is fine, but a little earlier or later will be ok depending upon the suitability of ‘gardening’ weather.

The reason for this hard pruning is to encourage as many upright cane-like stems as possible. The new stems have the brightly coloured bark, whilst the older stems are nowhere near as spectacular. The stems will re-grow to 1m – 1.5m high each year – starting off slowly as they sprout from below the pruning cut, then growing quickly throughout June until the end of August.

 

Picture on left shows the new basal growth on C. sanguineum Magic Flame, whilst on the right, the best red – Cornus alba ‘Sibirica' - is an abundance of cane-like stems throughout the winter.

 

The pruning cuts from the previous spring are clearly visible at approx 15cm above ground level. The brighter colour of the new stems is also clearly visible.

If you are starting from scratch with a neglected shrub, it will normally have several main stems at ground level. Cut all the top growth off to within 15cm of ground level. An alternative is to just cut back to a slightly taller framework, if you need the extra height at the back of a border for instance. To cut back older neglected dogwoods, you will need a pruning saw. To carry out the annual pruning thereafter, a good pair of secateurs or loppers will do the trick.

 

Cornus sanguineum 'Midwinter Fire’ also has a spectacular autumn foliage effect, as well as bright yellow, orange and red stems throughout the winter months.

Flowering Dogwoods

Cornus kousa, C. florida, C. Canadensis, C. alternifolia, C nuttallii C. controversa, C. mas.


Cornus canadensis

 


Cornus florida Rubrum

Cornus canadensis is a creeping form of Dogwood, rarely reaching more than 15cm high. Other flowering dogwoods can reach up to 15 metres in height. They are not to be treated like the dogwoods discussed earlier, which are grown for their stem effect.

Absolute minimal pruning is the key to success – unless of course, it has been planted in the wrong place. As most of these types grow into large shrubs or even small trees, then there is always that likelihood!

Any pruning carried out, should be done in late winter/early spring and would normally consist of removing the odd side growth, crossing branches and any dead wood. Just the minimum that is required in order to maintain a good shape. Most of this group flower early in the year, on flowering growths made during the previous. Any drastic measures taken will invariably cut out the flowering growths.

 

 

The majority of this group of dogwoods are so considerate. They have a natural propensity towards tidiness and rarely need any interference from humans – unless of course, they have been planted in the wrong place. The Cornus controversa Variegata on the left – grown for it’s splendid shape and spectacular foliage - is a typical example of!

 

 



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