Few plants provide as much wintertime cheer as the shrubby dogwoods – redtwig, yellowtwig or best of all, red, orange and yellow twig – aren’t they glorious? There’s nothing subtle or retiring about these plants; they blaze, especially when you put them against a dark backdrop.
In the photo above the dogwoods show up more brightly on the right where they are backed by a dark green ceanothus while those on the left appear more subdued against the paler green of heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica).
My best guess is that the dogwoods shown are Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Flame’. I have a similar one in my yard on which the previous owner kindly left the tag that says ‘Winter Flame’ gets to 6-8′x6-8′. The nice thing about shrubby dogwoods is that you actually should hack them back for the best twig color. I’m usually of the take out 1/4-1/3 of the oldest branches camp but have certainly been known to take the whole shrub down to a few inches as well. Do this no later than when this picture was taken (early-mid April), you can see the leaves are just starting to come out. Plants lay in stores in late summer and fall for the next year’s growth. If you cut these back to a few inches after they’ve done most of their growth, they don’t have much left in the way of stores, nor do they have leaves available to make more energy. (This is actually an effective way to get rid of shrubs (or blackberry) that you don’t want. Keep cutting them back before they can make many leaves and eventually they’ll have nothing left to support growth.)
Shrubby dogwoods come in a variety of sizes and stem colors. Many do get in the 8-10′ tall range. They also spread and older stems start to lean taking up even more room. Although you should prune this plant regularly for the best stem color, which will contain its size somewhat, you can look for smaller cultivars. One that’s been around a long time is ‘Kelseyi’ with red stems to about 2.5′ x 2.5′. The breeders seem to be coming out with new ones all the time so check the nursery. Three old standbys are listed below.
- Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima‘ – 6-8′ x 6-8′, red stems, leaves have a creamy edge around gray green centers
- Cornus sericea ‘Kelseyi‘ – 2.5′x2.5′ with red stems
- Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’ – 7-9′ with yellow stems