Wednesday 14 March 2012

The Dogwoods get a clip

You know that I am an ardent fan of the Dogwood (Cornus) family of shrubs. Their red, yellow and orange stems provide a very welcome splash of colour in the garden during the otherwise-drab Winter months. However, in order to keep the colours of the stems bright and vibrant the shrubs need to be pruned very hard every couple of years. When I say hard, I mean HARD - back to just a few inches above ground level, like this...

This one is "Midwinter Fire" and this what it looked like beforehand....

Not very fiery, even with the sun shinging directly on it. I think you will agree that the colour is a bit too bland on this bush, which is about four years old now. I have hitherto resisted pruning it drastically because it has grown very slowly. Now that has become well-established it needed the "short back and sides" treatment.

The Dogwood bushes in the border along the road side of the garden had got very big.

So they have had the same treatment:

This is what that massive straggly yellow one looks like now:

Just thought I might show you a picture of the tool I used for this work- my long-handled "Loppers". Secateurs would certainly not have been up to it...

I chose a few strong-looking stems about half an inch thick as cuttings from which to propagate some new plants. I cut them to about 18 inches and just pushed them into the soil, to a depth of about 6 inches. I don't expect them all to live, but one or two new plants would be nice.

Well, I hope I have done the right thing. Otherwise I'll soon be taking a close interest in the Shrub section of my local Garden Centre! While these bushes are recovering, I think I will have to put in some Annuals to temporarily fill in the gaps.


  1. Good luck, Mark! This morning I had to cut off two of my tomatoes plants (if you go to my Gardening notes page, you'll see the photo of it just 2 days ago): I noticed the leaves becoming all curly and yellow. From my last year's experience I knew at the same moment I looked at it: virus! So I took a plastic bag, cut off the top part up to the root, slid it into the plastic bag, tied it and put in the garbage can. I did the same with the roots. Do you think I should sterilize the soil in those pots? I think I caught it in the very early stages. Thank you!

  2. Marina; If you have a good (easy?) way of sterilising the soil in those pots, it would certainly be a good idea to do so. If you don't, I would recommend binning the soil along with the plant. Viruses are pretty robust and might survive in the soil for quite a long time.

  3. Thank you Mark. I will search the internet to see how to sterilize the soil. I don't want to bring it inside the kitchen oven. It's only March and I already have to deal with viruses! I am as confused as, probably, my plants are...:) Do you have any posts on dealing with viruses? Thanks for your help, Mark. I enjoy reading your blog.

  4. Marina; Sorry, but No I do not have any posts about viruses to share with you. I'm not an expert in this area I'm afraid.

  5. I did this and it works great to revitalize the shrubs. I don't have midwinter fire..but sure would like to...although for Christmas decoration last year I bought some dogwood branches and jammed it into the damp soil after the holidays and I do think a few have taken. Fingers crossed, they are midwinter fire cuttings!

    Great advice if I could only get to the Wisteria.

  6. That's not a short back and sides Mark...that's scalping!
    But I know you have to be cruel to be kind. You'll have a beautiful vibrant plant before you can say 'Dogwood'! :D

  7. I do this every 2 - 3 yrs. Some years I trim them in the late fall, after leaves have come off to about 10 inches off the ground - using the stems for winter containers or Christmas displays. Come spring, I cut back any further die back from the winter to about the same as yours. Good job.

    1. As for your cuttings stuck in the ground - I found when I tried that only 1 out of many only rooted. So I tried putting them in pots instead. The lighter potting soil helped all to root. Hope yours turn out.

  8. It's always a worry isn't it when you hard prune anything - I do the same with the buddleias and have so many on the plot due to sticking bits of pruned stick in the ground!

  9. looks great! I'm a big fan of the hard prune! In fact, i even use that same exact tool which i was lucky enough to get FREE from a neighbor who was moving!!! I love how the handles extend!

  10. That looks drastic. I hope they don't take too long to grow back in all their fiery glory.

  11. Strange that your midwinter fire hasn't found its fire yet. The cuttings my mum gave me from theirs have been blazing (though small) this winter. Interestingly I read recently that midwinter fire shouldn't be pruned hard (they certainly haven't been while they were sitting in pots) so I just pruned our dark red stemmed C. alba a few weeks ago.

  12. It takes courage to cut back so hard! I hope you have success rooting some new ones. That's a really lovely brick wall. Walls and fences, hardscapes in general are often overlooked in gardens.

  13. David; I love my wall! It's a shame though that it is on the South side of my garden (i.e. North-facing), otherwise it would be great for growing fruit trees against. The bricks absorb heat during the day and release it slowly overnight.


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