Shrubby dogwoods may not have the large, showy flower bracts like dogwood trees, but have colorful red-tinted twigs that brighten the winter landscape. If you receive snow in winter, the branches' contrasting, vivid colors heighten. Remove the oldest branches by pruning every three years to encourage new twigs to replace them with their more intense coloration.
Red Osier Dogwood
Tolerant of wet soils, the red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea, synonym Cornus stolonifera) is native to eastern North America. This species colonizes, sending out horizontal rooted stems called stolons, creating a thicket of branches. It grows to a mature height of 6 to 9 feet height, and easily forms a mass at least 10 feet in diameter. Variety 'Kelseyi' grows only 3 feet tall and wide with a compact, mounding form. Growing to 6 feet in height is 'Isanti'. This dogwood species also produces yellow-colored twigs, as with 'Flaviramea' and 'Silver and Gold', which happens to also have ivory and green variegated leaves.
This European species (Cornus sanguinea) displays red-tinted bark only on its youngest shoots, especially those that receive direct sun rays. Older branches bear greenish-gray bark, reaching heights of 6 to 15 feet. Promote more colorful twigs by pruning this shrub back to the ground in early spring. This action causes many new, reddened twigs to grow over summer and provide an impressive display the following winter. Selections of bloodtwig dogwood vary in their red coloration, some not red at all. 'Winter Beauty' bears twigs of orange-yellow and red, and 'Winter Flame' produces yellow-orange stems. Yellowish-green twigs define the shoots on 'Viridissima'.
Cold-tolerant and able to grow in a wide array of soil types, Tatarian dogwood (Cornus alba) is also called redtwig dogwood. This vigorous shrub grows up to 10 feet in height and width, and hails from eastern Siberia, northern China and Korea. Planting masses of this shrub intensifies the landscape display of the red stems in winter, although pruning back the shrub annually in early spring to force new stems annually promotes the most intense red coloration.
Nearly all selections of this dogwood species produce red to coral twig color, but foliage differs. 'Aurea' has yellow leaves, 'Elegantissima' bears gray-green leaves with white edges; 'Gouchaultii' and 'Spaethii' leaves line themselves with yellow edges. The most intense red-colored twigs repeatedly form on selection 'Sibirica'. For unusual interest, plant 'Kesselringii', with young twigs in a blackish-purple to burgundy color.