The Glowing Colour of Winter Stems

 In Seasonal Gardening, Trees and Shrubs, Winter colour

The glowing colour of winter stems can shorten winter!

I find that the colour they provide is long lasting. And when coupled with trees with great bark colour, it transforms the off season in the garden.  It can become something quite special!

Recently I blogged about trees with attractive winter bark.

Consequently I want to entice you to plant some complimentary shrubs with bright stems!

All are hardy and easy to grow!


Dogwoods [Cornus] are outstanding. But beware not all the dogwood family has attractive winter stems.

colourful cornus stems in snow

Cornus alba Sibirica; sometimes referred to as ‘Westonbirt’

Dogwood varieties in the Cornus alba and sericea end of the genus have the colour!

‘Sibirica’ or ‘Westonbirt’ [it’s the same thing] is outstanding. I find that if cut back to just above ground level at the end of every second winter, dogwood is easily managed.  They have the brightest stem colouration if cut hard in this way.


I like to plant Cornus alba ‘Sibirica Variegata’. It has great red stems but also white variegated summer leaves.

The Cornus sericea form called ‘Flaviramea’ has yellowy green stems that contrast well with the red forms if planted nearby.

I recommend that both types are under-planted with silver variegated Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety’ as this looks very effective.

I first saw this good idea at Cambridge Botanic Garden‘s winter garden.



yellow stem dogwood shrub

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’


I mustn’t forget the appropriately named Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’.

This is a superb selection of, I think, our native hedgerow dogwood.

Stems are yellowish orange and somewhat spindly.

Consequently they are much slower to grow and don’t need for the harsh regular pruning of other dogwoods.

In weak winter sunshine this shrub really glows. In my opinion ‘Midwinter Fire’ is a first rate medium sized shrub!




Staying with this colour theme some of the willows [Salix] can be pruned hard annually to keep them to shrub size.

Certainly like dogwoods the newest younger stems have the best colour of winter stems.

Salix daphnoides and alba ‘Britzensis’ would make good back of the border or wild garden choices.



ghostly white rubus stems

White stems of Rubus cockburnianus

Some other shrubs provide the glowing colour of winter stems.   Some can provide some real security too!

Several brambles [Rubus species] have fierce hooked thorns that no one in their right mind would push a way through!

Rubus cockburnianus is a clump forming shrub and will provide a first rate intruder barrier. The arching stems are covered in a ghostly white bloom.







Also, it’s not just the colour of winter stems that delight. A few rose species have fierce showy thorns that are attractive.

Above all is Rosa omeiensis pteracantha which has spectacular blood red thorns. These are spectacular translucent winged thorns. Furthermore if viewed with low winter sun behind them they glow red!



brown peeling bark of rhododendron,

Even some Rhododendron have attractive bark

For those lucky enough to be able to grow lime hating Rhododendrons in their soil there are several that have beautiful coloured bark at all times of the year.

Furthermore like the willows, dogwoods and brambles it is in the dark days of winter that good stem colour is most noticeable!

Do you have plants in your garden with good stem colour in winter?

I’ve written about the National Birch collection on the edge of Dartmoor here. Most of them have stunningly beautiful bark in winter.

Finally, many of the plants that I’ve mentioned here can be easily propagated by hardwood cuttings.

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