Red Twig Dogwood Plant Profile

Red Dogwood twigs
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Red twig dogwood will brighten your winter landscaping with its bright red branches; the shrubs actually can provide year-round interest. Despite bearing spring blossoms, variegated leaves during summer, and berries from summer to fall, clearly, this plant's common name explains the main reason that people grow it: namely, the bush's red twigs, which are brightest from late winter to early spring.

Several different dogwood species have cultivars that include the "red-twig" label as part of the common name. Depending on variety, these shrubs bear either dark green or variegated leaves (greenish-gray with a white edge) and small white flowers that form in flat clusters. The flowers are succeeded by berries that are a white color with hints of blue and green. The fall foliage can pick up hints of rose or gold, but most gardeners find the foliage less attractive in autumn, as leaves pick up brown spots with age. You will be glad that the foliage is deciduous, as you will have a clear view of the red color of the bark in winter.

Red twig dogwood shrubs should be planted somewhere in your yard where they can be easily viewed from a window, to take advantage of their status as top-notch specimen plants for winter landscapes. For optimal display, grow them against a wall that receives ample sunlight from the south or west in winter. Use them in combination with yellow twig dogwoods for an even more stunning winter display. With or without their yellow cousins, red twig dogwoods look best massed together. On a more practical level, their widely-spreading root systems make them effective plants for erosion control (for example, on steep bankings). They are excellent for moist woodland plantings.

Botanical Name Cornus servicea, Cornus alba, or Cornus sanguinea
Common Names Red-twig dogwood, Tartian dogwood
Plant Type Deciduous flowering shrub
Mature Size 6 to 9 feet tall, 8 to 12-foot spread
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Fertile, moist soil
Soil pH 5.5 to 6.6; slightly acidic
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 3 to 8
Native Area Much of North America
Variegated Red-twig Dogwood (Cornus alba) 'Elegantissima' and juniper (Juniperus chinensis)
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Ice Encrusted Dogwood Bush
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rubus cockburnianus, cornus alba & viburnum tinus, winter border in sun
Ellen Rooney / Getty Images

How to Grow Red Twig Dogwoods

Red twig dogwoods have good tolerance for most soil and light conditions, and are one of the few shrubs that thrive in boggy conditions. The best color is on new stems, so a systematic routine of removing a few of the oldest stems each year is recommended. If the shrubs spread too much, use a spade to trim the roots around the base of the plant. The plants can periodically be trimmed back all the way to the ground, which will both rejuvenate the plant and control its growth.

Light

Red twig dogwoods will tolerate partial shade, but the signature red bark will be brightest if they are planted in full sun.

Soil

Red twig dogwood bushes are considered good areas with consistently moist soil (for example, wet spots where homeowners may wish to establish woodland gardens), although some types perform better in well-drained soils. Work humus into the soil for nutrients. Somewhat acidic soil is preferred.

Water

These plants prefer moist areas. They thrive in low spots or along streams or ponds. If there is not a lot of rain, water new plants weekly for the first few months. Mature plants only need watering during dry spells when there is no rain for more than a week.

Temperature and Humidity

This shrub has adapted to a wide range of temperatures. It does not do well in extremely hot and humid climates where it can be vulnerable to diseases such as canker.

Fertilizer

Fertilize red twig dogwood in the early spring, side-dressing it with compost. When it has started to leaf out, you can feed it with fish emulsion, although it will do fine without.

Propagating Red Twig Dogwoods

If you want to propagate red twig dogwoods, take hardwood cuttings in late fall.

  1. Cut a length of stem that is as wide as a pencil.
  2. Cut the stem piece into 6- to 9-inch sections with a bud near either end of each cutting.
  3. Take off side branches and dip each segment in rooting hormone. Plant the cutting in pots and place in a sheltered area, or in a cold frame that is closed for the winter.
  4. In spring, you can open the cold frame or move the pots back into the open to continue growing.
  5. It can take up to a full year for the cutting to root. Once they are fully rooted, you can use them in your landscape.

Varieties of Red Twig Dogwoods

Different species of dogwood shrubs with red bark can be found around the globe in the Northern Hemisphere. All are classified under the genus Cornus:

  • Tatarian dogwoods (Cornus alba) are native to Asia.
  • Red osier dogwoods (Cornus sericea) are native to North America..
  • Bloodtwig dogwoods (Cornus sanguinea) are native to Europe

The similarities between these species, and the similarity in their common names, all of which include or signify "red," has led to much confusion as to which is which, even in the nursery trade. If you have your heart set on a particular cultivar, be sure to make your purchase from an establishment that you trust.

If erosion control is a significant reason for your purchase of a red twig dogwood, be sure to seek out the red osier type, specifically. Red osier spreads by suckering to form a colony over time. The root system of such a colony can be very effective at holding back the soil on a hillside. 'Cardinal' is an example of a cultivar to look for.

Pruning

The brightness of this bush's red twigs has a tendency to fade over time from early spring to summer, and there is not much that you can do about that. But through proper care, you can do something about the fact that the older branches tend to be less colorful than the younger ones. Care for this plant amounts mainly to pruning, which should be done in later winter or after the plant has bloomed.

For maximal color, prune out one-third of the older branches every three years or so (or even annually, as long as you do not mind having a plant of a smaller size). Such care will promote new growth. And since the younger branches bear the brightest color, that is precisely the growth that you want to encourage. If the bush is overgrown, you can cut it back to the ground. It will return within a year with young red stems.

Common Pests/Diseases

Dogwoods are susceptible to variety of fungal problems, including leaf and twig blights, canker, and leaf spots. Fungal-diseased branches should be cut back to healthy wood; otherwise, the problem may spread to infect the entire shrub.

Scale, leaf miners, and bagworms are common insect pests. Commercial pesticides can be used if the problem becomes serious, though insects rarely kill a shrub.