The landscape becomes drab brown as autumn falls into winter.
Deciduous trees and shrubs lose their glow as leaves drift to the ground on a whisper of wind. Berry-bearing shrubs offer feeble defense against a dull gray sky, and rough textures of exfoliating bark are soon overlooked. We dismiss our surroundings until evergreens are dressed in snow and “silver-toed slippers,” glittering like cold, hard diamonds.
But if you want color in your winter landscape, it’s not too late to plant it. One perfect choice could be dogwood. They drop their foliage each fall to reveal red, orange, coral gold or yellow stems, depending on the variety. Many varieties can get quite tall — up to 10 feet — but several newer varieties are ideal for smaller gardens.
“Arctic Sun” (Cornus sanguinea). This variety tops out at about 4 feet and looks great massed in three’s or five’s, if you’ve got the room. Stems are yellow at the base, turning orange and traveling up to a coral red tip. Deer resistant and shade tolerant, this shrub is easy to grow and produces white flowers in spring.
“Arctic Fire” (C. stolonifera). Another compact shrub, this red twig dogwood grows well in sun to part sun and produces bright red stems on a dwarf plant. It tolerates a variety of soil and light conditions, and it is considered one of the most shade-tolerant ornamental shrubs.
For both of these shrubs, the best color appears on one- and two-year-old stems, while older stems turn brown and corky. Proven Winners suggests cutting back the entire plant to short stubs every other year, or cut one-third of the oldest stems every year. The second option is the one they recommend, and early spring is the best time to do it.
“Flaviramea” yellow twig dogwood (C. sericea). Although described as “moderate growing,” this one needs plenty of space because it can reach 8 feet tall and 9 feet wide. That makes the collection of glowing yellow twigs quite impressive. Monrovia describes the variety as tolerant of wet conditions in enriched, medium to wet soils. Like other dogwoods, the best stem color is on young twigs. Keep it fresh by pruning ¼ of the older stems in early spring, or hard prune every two or three years. Monrovia also suggests root pruning to control the spread.
“Sibirica” red twig dogwood (C. alba). Bright coral-red stems provide winter color, while white spring flowers are followed by blue berries. It can reach 9 feet high and spread 5 feet and tolerates a range of well-drained soils. To encourage those stems, Monrovia suggests pruning 1/3 of the oldest stems to 6 inches, leaving “strong young whips.” Do this in late winter or early spring.
“Elegantissima” (C. alba), variegated red twig dogwood. Expect a thicket of upright, blood-red stems for winter color, while variegated leaves and white berries tinged with blue or green add interest the remainder of the year. Although it is vigorous and adaptable, reaching 6 to 8 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide, the best color is in a sunny location.