Using Dogwood for winter colour
intense winter colour dogwood coloured stems
Many gardeners “in the know” will now have borders featuring the coloured stems of dogwood. These vary from deep purple to a whiter shade of pale, with reds, oranges, green and yellow. They know the secret of using dogwood for winter colour.
And in the summer these same plants offer strong growth with interesting foliage and flower.
Established Dogwood plants are available from garden centres in the spring, but at £12 – £20 each it will be expensive to create the sort of block colour impact that gets them noticed.
The best time to buy is early winter, when rooted stems can be bought for as little as £1 each. The more popular varieties, such as Midwinter Fire, will cost more. But the price of bare root canes reduces the more you buy.
One of my favourite sources for bareroot and perennials is Buckingham Nurseries.
I have used dogwoods for a few years now, both for the colour and for the winter framework. When they are cut back in the spring, the shorter framework provides support for emerging bulbs and perennials. So they earn their keep more than once.
Where to see dogwood for winter colour
A place that offers an idea of the sort of impact these plants provide is Dorney lake. I go there occasionally to drop my boy off to row or cycle, and always stop to look at the flowing banks of colour. It reminds of opening a large set of coloured pencils for the first time, seeing the colour themes grouped together, transforming from one shade to the next.
I also like the garden at RHS Wisley, where the dogwoods are planted closer to the water, with paths meandering through. From the opposite side of the pond you can see them reflected in the water, amplifying the intensity of the colour.
Both these places use other plants with similar properties to accentuate the effects. At Dorney a golden stemmed Willow provides intense yellow, while Wisley uses the ghostly Rubus brambles to provide a white foil.
Unless you have a significant garden that is likely to be where the large colour block concept ends. But you can use dogwood for winter colour in the smallest garden, using just a few plants. But in order to see the intensity of one colour there needs to be another present, rather like a straight man; Laurel and Hardy, Morecambe and Wise or Barker and Corbett.
Using just green or just red won’t do because you can’t see quite how green or red it really is. I use other dogwood colours, or other coloured stems, to provide the contrast, but anything that provides a backdrop will do.
How to get that intense stem colour dogwood for winter colour
The best colour shows on the newest stems. And that implies that you have to cut off the old ones – mostly – every year. Do it while the plant is dormant, normally by the end of February. But delaying pruning until later will maximise the colour show. In established plants, wait until the new leaves start to show, then either coppice to a low stump, or pollard for a mid-height effect.
The best time to prune for most of us is when you have time to do it. But to get the best result of strong coloured stems next winter, prune before leaf growth really gets going. Make your stem reduction before the plants energy moves to the leaves, or re-growth is impaired. That leaves a window from Late February to late March, depending on how warm it is.
Dogwood is a plant group that will enhance any garden, one I can’t contemplate being without.
Using dogwood for winter colour workshop
This spring I will show you how to prune your dogwood for winter colour, and what to do with the cut stems afterwards. I use them to create cuttings for more plants, or as cut stems in a tall vase for the hall way or lounge.
Click here for more on the free Dogwood for winter colour garden workshop.