Thursday 5 March 2015

Pruning Dogwood shrubs

Just recently I noticed that all my Dogwood (Cornus) shrubs were beginning to produce tiny new leaves, and this told me that it was time for their annual pruning. Dogwoods are generally very vigorous and put on a lot of new growth in a year. During their leafy stage in the Summer I prune them a bit quite frequently simply in order to keep them in check, but their main pruning is a Spring-time job. For a start, it's so much easier to do when there are no leaves on the plants and you can therefore see what you are cutting. This is how the border looks in May / June (photo from 01/06/14).

In the foreground of the photo above you can see one of my favourite Dogwoods - Cornus Alba "Aureum", with its stunning golden-yellow leaves.

Despite such beautiful foliage, much of the appeal of the Dogwood is in its Winter colour. Different varieties have different coloured stems, but they are mostly various shades of red, orange and yellow.

My aim when pruning the shrubs is to promote the production of the maximum number of tall straight, whippy twigs - the ones that will look so striking in dense clumps during the Winter. Hard pruning helps to maintain the vigour of the plants and enhance their colour.

With some of the plants, I cut them down to about a foot above ground level, like this:

Dogwood is like the proverbial Hydra, in that wherever you cut, two more twigs will grow! (That's as long as you cut just above a pair of leaf-buds). In the photo above you can see that I have pushed into the ground a few of the offcuts, in the hope that some of them will grow - they often do.

This next one is the Cornus Alba "Kesselringii", which has very dark red stems, verging on the black. The colour is not so pronounced in the older wood at the base of the plant, only in the young wood. You can perhaps just make out some very dark-coloured twigs pushed into the soil close to the main stem.

It looks as if I have been a bit too drastic, but let me assure you that I have not. In a few months' time this plant will be big and bushy again.

I have not been quite so severe with this one:

In this case I have left the main stems quite tall, and I will allow them to produce new twigs up high rather than near the ground. This means that smaller plants beneath it will get more light. You can't see them yet, but there are Crocosmia bulbs in the patch of open soil seen at the bottom right of the photo.

I have used the same approach here:

Each tall stem has produced some lateral twigs and these have in turn produced more uprights. Here's a close-up:

Here again, I get the best of both worlds. The bright red twigs are eminently visible, but the plants at ground level (In this case Euphorbia and Primroses) are not deprived of light.

I haven't pruned much off this one. It is "Midwinter Fire". I pruned it hard last year, so I don't want to over-do it. Actually the colour hasn't been so special this past Winter, so maybe it needs some time to regain its energy.

The Down side of all this pruning is that you have to find some way of disposing of all the trimmings:

My solution (a laborious one, I accept) is to cut the branches / twigs into short lengths and stuff them into old compost bags prior to taking them to the Council Tip.

Well, I'm glad that job is done for another year!


  1. They're wonderful plants, they give such a striking display during the winter months.

  2. Your mid-winter fire dogwood should be the standout! I hope it regains it's colors. Your post makes me feel lucky to have weekly curbside debris pick up. While we compost as much as we can, things like long twigs and branches go in our bins if we aren't planning to run the chipper. You really have nice selection of dogwoods :)

  3. I will soon have to do the same thing with all our buddleias.

  4. Cornus are such good value plants. I like C. 'Elegantissima' with it's red stems and variegated leaves. How you treat them gets the best out of them. I am impressed with your 'Winter Fire', they don't do so well up here in Scotland.

  5. I've always been a fan of Dogwood it provides great winter colour and the red looks great doesn't it.

    All the best Jan


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