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How to Prune Red Osier Dogwood

Red Osier Dogwood is an attractive ornamental shrub native throughout North America. Its small heads of white flowers and white berries are decorative in their season, but it is for the bright red bark of the new growth that the plant is usually grown. Most noticeable in winter, the red stems are still conspicuous among the green leaves during spring and summer. Since the older branches have less vivid color, pruning is often used to force new growth as well as to control the size of the shrub.

Pruning For Color And Grace

Decide on your main goal in pruning. Do you want a ten foot tall screen of stems? Do you want a few main branches and many small ones? Do you want a small bush with intense coloration? For a screen, you'll be cutting stems back part way to force them to bush out. If you want more of a tree shape, you'll chose a framework of trunks and cut back to those. To get the greatest number of bright new branches, you can cut the whole bush down to the ground each year.

Choose your places to cut, imagining the effect of each one. Dogwoods have two growth buds opposite each other at the base of each leaf and along each stem. When you make a cut above them, they both start growing in opposite directions, doubling the number of twigs. Take off one of the growth buds to shorten the branch without creating extra bushiness.

For a screen, prune the branches back to a foot or two above the ground until you have the desired number of stems. Then remove only the tallest each year, back to the same height.

For a framework, choose your best branches and prune back to those each year. Remove one of the buds of each pair to force the new growth in direction you choose.

For a small bush of new growth, cut the branches back to within three or four inches of the ground.


Red Stem Dogwoods can be pruned at any time of the year, but early spring is best for production of vividly colored new stems.


Topping the stems, rather than cutting out the tallest ones or pruning back to a preselected framework, results in awkward branches shooting off in all directions and spoils the attractive, graceful shape of the bush.

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