How to Prune Dogwood Shrubs


The vibrantly colored branches of dogwood shrubs (Cornus spp.) are the most desirable ornamental feature, providing vertical texture and color to the snowy or brown winter landscape scene. Red osier (Cornus sericea), Tartarian dogwood (Cornus alba) and bloodtwig (Cornus sanguinea) come in many varieties, allowing gardeners to choose types with variegated foliage or varying twig colors, ranging from blood red to lime green or yellow. Even the small white flower clusters are attractive, and the few tiny berries that ensue delight birds. Depending on species, grow dogwood shrubs in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 2 through 7.

Partial Annual Pruning

Step 1

Prune back one-third to one-half of all the branches of your dogwood shrub with hand pruners in early spring. Make the pruning cut 2 to 4 inches above soil level. Use loppers if the diameter of the branch is greater than 3/4 inch. Choose weak-looking or dull-colored branches for first removal.

Step 2

Pull out the removal branches from the matrix of branches in the dogwood shrub. Examine the branches that remain and cut away any remaining branches that are either partially dead, wounded or cracked or are rubbing against other healthy branches. Remove the entire branch, making the pruning cut 2 to 4 inches above the soil line.

Step 3

Allow the shrubs to rejuvenate new, more vividly colored branches over the summer and fall.

Step 4

The next spring, repeat Steps 1 through 3, focusing on removing the oldest, dullest branches that remain. Avoid cutting off the branches that grew up from the pruning cuts you made the previous spring. Over two to three years, the entire shrub will have had all branches cut and replaced.

Annual Full Rejuvenation

Step 1

Prune back all branches of the dogwood shrub, making the pruning cuts 2 to 4 inches above the soil level. Use hand pruners, but consider loppers if branch diameters are greater than 3/4 inch. Conduct this severe rejuvenating pruning in early to mid-spring before leaf buds swell and open.

Step 2

Allow the entire shrub to rejuvenate over summer and fall. Enjoy the matrix of vividly colored twigs across the winter.

Step 3

Repeat Steps 1 and 2 the following early or mid-spring. This harsh annual rejuvenating pruning ensures intensely colored twigs and helps keep the shrub's overall size in check. Depending on species, the shrub's twigs will likely not grow taller than 4 to 6 feet each growing season.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not cut branches at a mid-level height. This causes lots of twiggy, leggy sprouts to grow and will make the shrub look uneven and unevenly colored in winter when you have an unimpeded view of the branches. It's better to cut out the entire branch and allow a new, singular stem to replace it.

Things You'll Need

  • Hand pruners (secateurs)
  • Loppers


  • "Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs"; Michael A. Dirr; 1997
  • University of Connecticut: Cornus sericea
  • The Ohio State University: Cornus alba
  • Missouri Botanical Garden: Cornus sericea Allemans
Keywords: pruning dogwood shrubs, red osier, dogwood shrub maintenance, rejuvenative pruning, Cornus, bloodtwig dogwood

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for "The Public Garden," "Docent Educator," nonprofit newsletters and for horticultural databases, becoming a full-time writer in 2008. He's gardened and worked professionally at public and private gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. He has written articles for eHow and GardenGuides.