Red Twig Dogwoods

Cornus stolonifera

If the only reason you plant a Red Twig Dogwood is for the bright red branches in the middle of winter, it would be reason enough. And, even though that is what most people think of when they think of Red Twigs, it is only the beginning for a shrub that guarantees four seasons of interest in your landscape.

In the spring, the Red Twig Dogwood produces clusters of white blooms that have a light fragrance. During the summer, the dogwood has very pretty, medium green leaves that provide a nice backdrop for annuals and perennials. My favorite season for the Red Twig Dogwood, though, is fall. In late fall, the leaves will start to change from green to a beautiful, rich coppery purple. This was one of the last shrubs in my garden to drop all of its leaves, and I just loved seeing it every time I walked to my garage.


The Red Twig Dogwood has a fairly loose growth habit, with new stems growing up from the ground yearly. It will grow to six to eight feet tall, and equally as wide, if left to itself. However, regular pruning will keep this shrub looking its best, since the reddest stems are those that are younger. Older stems will get grayish red with time. Pruning should be done after they bloom, or in late winter if you aren’t concerned with the flowers. If you have a very overgrown specimen, you can cut the entire shrub back to the ground, and it will be just fine, rewarding you with a flush of young red stems within a year. Fertilizing should be done in early spring. I use some organic granular fertilizer scratched into the soil around the base of the plant, and then I foliar feed with fish emulsion just as the shrub is starting to leaf out. The Red Twig adapts to almost any soil, but prefers slightly moist conditions. It does well in full sun to part shade.

You can propagate Red Twig Dogwoods by taking hardwood cuttings in late fall. To do this, cut a stem that is about the thickness of a pencil. Cut the stem with bypass pruners into six to nine inch sections. Cut each section so there is a bud just below the top of the cutting and just above the bottom of it. Remove all side branches. Dip the cuttings into rooting hormone. The cuttings can be placed either directly into the ground (as long as the garden soil is mixed with some perlite or vermiculite for drainage) or in pots with a mixture of potting soil and vermiculite or perlite. A cold frame is a good place to put your cuttings, whether planted directly into the soil or in pots. Keep the cold frame closed over the winter.

 Once spring arrives, you can leave the cold frame open, or remove your pots to another area. Once the cuttings have rooted, you can plant them in a nursery bed (an out of the way area where they can grow a little bigger) or directly into your landscape. This can take up to twelve months, so be patient!

Should you decide to plant a Red Twig Dogwood, it would be a good idea to place it where you can see it from your windows. It will give you something to look at in the winter months. Red Twigs are excellent used in mixed shrub borders, along fence lines, or wherever you would like a bit of attractive screening. Overall, the Red Twig Dogwood is an extremely easy-care plant that gives you a ton of interest in the garden.