It’s time to plant Colourful Cornus

 In Plant Focus, Pruning, Trees and Shrubs

Plant Colourful Cornus?

Colourful Cornus should be planted now!

November is a month of fireworks, getting used to the clocks going back, autumn mists and some late autumn leaf colour! But it is also the start of stem colour in the garden.

cornus, colourful cornus, dogwood

Red stem dogwood

Cornus, also known as ‘Dogwood’, is the main contender to provide that brilliant stem colour and fortunately it is one of the easiest shrubs to grow!

Red, orange, yellow, green or even black stemmed Cornus are available from good nurseries and garden centres this month and will establish well if planted during winter.




What they need

You’ll need a bit of space for these dogwoods. But to get the best stem colour they are cut hard back at the end of every second winter and this keeps their size in check. They aren’t a bit fussy about soil type and will actually do rather well on damp heavy soils. This can be a bonus since quite a few garden plants demand good drainage and turn their noses up at anything less than perfect drainage!

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Cornus feature strongly in Cambridge Botanic Winter Garden

Choose carefully where you plant these coloured stemmed dogwoods since they look best when lit by the low winter light. They can also look great when teamed up with contrasting or complimentary ground cover plants. Try, for instance, under-planting red stem dogwood with silver variegated Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety’.


Tree Cornus

There are, of course, other colourful Cornus which are noted for their bract-like blooms in spring. Most of these grow into small to medium sized trees.

cornus, kousa, dogwood, treeThese are so different in character and their demands to flourish that it is surprising that they are even related!

Forms of Cornus florida, nuttallii and kousa are all magnificent garden specimen trees but please don’t confuse them with the colourful stemmed dogwoods.



Colourful Cornus Options

colourful cornus stems in snow

Cornus alba Sibirica; sometimes referred to as ‘Westonbirt’

If you’re looking for red stems then Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ and ‘Baton Rouge’ are the best. ‘Sibirica’ is sometimes called ‘Westonbirt’.

For lime green stems I recommend Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’ and, if you can find it, plant the form called ‘White Gold’. This selection has those coloured green stems of ‘Flaviramea’ but also white variegated leaves all summer long. Incidentally, there is also a good white variegated form of ‘Sibirica’ called ‘Sibirica Variegata’. This one has lovely pink autumn leaf colour. It also has scarlet winter stems and is less vigorous.

Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’ planted on its own is only half the plant it could be! When planted with a silver-grey Convolvulus cneorum or another silver leaf shrub the almost black stems are really appreciated.


Pruning Colourful Cornus

Man pruning colourful cornus stems

Stooling colourful Cornus bushes at the end of every second winter.

So far all the coloured stemmed dogwoods that I have recommended can be pruned at the end of each second winter.  Cut to within 10-15 cms of the ground. This encourages vigorous new stems. Remember that it is these youngest ones that have the best colour!








But Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ has lovely orange–yellow stems and resents being drastically cut back. Since it is a form of our native hedgerow dogwood and produces thin but densely packed shoots, it will not respond well to the ‘chop back’ that the others need!  All that is required is a regular thinning out of old wood and it should never be cut to the ground.

Colourful cornus

Cornus sanguinea Midwinter Fire




When to plant Colourful Cornus

Whichever colourful Cornus you decide to plant, now is a great time to plant them!

Just think carefully about where you place them in the garden. Remember that they look best if they catch that low winter sunshine and then they really shine.



Where to see Colourful Cornus

If you live in the south east or east you will find a visit to Cambridge Botanic winter garden worth while.

colourful cornus, dogwood, cornus

Cornus sericea White Gold

If you live in the south, south east or south west then a visit to the Sir Harold Hillier garden in winter is worthwhile.

Many Cornus varieties can be easily propagated from hardwood cuttings. I’ve written about this here.

Have you any plants that have good winter stem colour in your garden?

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