Variegated red twig dogwood dwarf

Plants We Love – Red Twig Dogwood

Posted by admin on Jan 31, 2013 in News | Comments Off on Plants We Love – Red Twig Dogwood

Cornus stolonifera, Red Twig Dogwood or Redosier Dogwood

Winter Color

The Red Twig Dogwood made it on our list of “plants we love” because of the great winter interest it provides. Its winter interest is in the stems, as winter approaches in the autumn the stems start to transform. As the leaves fall they unveil the bright stems of red – orange, yellow-orange or yellow depending on the variety, because of this they are great for mass plantings with a dark backdrop or just planted singularly perhaps in a planter. Either way they are breathtaking and create a bright splash of color in the drab winter months. During the summer months, white flowers debut which makes for a nice contrast with the darker colored foliage.

Deer Resistant

Additionally, the Red Twig Dogwood is deer resistant. This in itself makes for a great contender to our “plants we love” list, due to the fact that we know so many gardeners and landscapes that are frequented by many deer.

To be noted

If you are thinking about planting the Red Twig Dogwood, it is recommended that you cut it back hard every 2 to 3 years for brighter stem color.


  • Arctic Fire – a compact selection of the ‘Baileyi.’ Dark red winter twigs
  • Artic Sun – a brightly colored compact dogwood tree with rich yellow stems tipped with blood red color
  • Baileyi – a strong growing, non-stoloniferous shrub with dark red stems
  • Cardinal – in the Fall the stems change from coral to deep cherry red by winter


Key feature: Winter Interest

Plant type: Shrub

Garden styles: Asian/Zen, Contemporary, Rustic

Deciduous/evergreen: Deciduous

Cold hardiness zones: 3 – 7

Light needs: Partial to full sun

Water Needs: Requires regular watering.

Average landscape size: Reaches 3 to 4 feet tall and wide.

Growth habit: Round

Special features: Deer Resistant, Dwarf Plant, Fall Color, North American Native

Landscape uses: Border, Mass Planting, Specimen, Woodland Garden

Flower color: White

Foliage color: Dark Green

Red-Twig Dogwood Cornaceae-Dogwood Family

Cornus sericea L.

(KOR-nus sir-IH-see-uh)

Red Twig Dogwood variety with a Yellow Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’) in the background.

Names: Cornus sericea is synonymous with Cornus stolonifera. Cornus means horn or antler, or “the ornamental knobs at the end of the cylinder on which ancient manuscripts were rolled”—which may refer to the hard wood or the knobby-looking inflorescence of some dogwoods. Sericea means covered with fine, silky hairs, which are found on the undersides of the leaves, especially on the veins; or on the young branches. Stolonifera means “bearing stolons (running stems),” due to this shrub’s habit of spreading by the layering of prostrate stems. It is often called Red-osier Dogwood; other common names include: Red-stemmed, Rose, Silky, American, California, Creek, Western, or Poison Dogwood, Squawbush, Shoemack, Waxberry Cornel, Red-osier Cornel, Red-stemmed Cornel, Red Willow, Red Brush, Red Rood, Harts Rouges, Gutter Tree and Dogberry Tree. “Osier” is a name for willows whose branches are used for making baskets or wicker furniture.

Relationships: There are about 100 dogwood species worldwide found primarily in temperate regions. Three Dogwood trees and a couple of shrub species are found in the eastern or Midwestern United States. In our region, we also have the Pacific Dogwood tree, and a groundcover, Bunchberry, Cornus canadensis.

Distribution of Red Twig Dogwood from USDA Plants Database

Distribution: Red-Twig Dogwood is found throughout most of northern and western North America, extending into Mexico in the west; but barely into Kentucky and Virginia in the east. The variety found west of the Cascades, C. s. occidentalis, tends to be more hairy. Red-Twig Dogwood is extremely variable; many cultivated varieties are available varying in stem color, size, and leaf variegation. Notable varieties include ‘Flaviramea,” a yellow-twig form; “Isanti,” a compact form (to 5’) with bright red stems; ‘Kelseyi,’ a dwarf form to 1.5’; and ‘Silver and Gold’ with yellow branches and creamy-edged foliage.

Growth: The species grows 6-18 feet (2-6m) tall, often reaching tree stature in our area.

Habitat: It usually grows in moist soil, especially along streams and lakesides, in wet meadows, open forests and along forest edges. Wetland designation: FACW, It usually occurs in wetlands, but is occasionally found in non-wetlands.

Diagnostic characters: Leaves are opposite, oval-shaped, pointed at the tip with the typical dogwood veining pattern; 5-7 secondary veins arise at the midvein, and run parallel to each other out to the margin, converging at the tip. White threads run through the veins. Flowers are small, white to greenish in dense, flat-topped clusters (bracts not large and showy as in other dogwoods). Fruits are white, sometimes blue-tinged with a somewhat flattened stone pit. Stems are often bright red, especially in winter, but also can be greenish, or yellow.

In the Landscape: Red-Twig Dogwood is most often grown for its striking red twigs for winter interest. In fall, its white berries are a striking contrast against its brilliant red fall foliage. It is especially useful for planting in Rain Gardens, around water retention swales, and for stabilizing streambanks, especially where seasonal flooding is a concern. It is good for a quick space-filler and can be used as an effective screen in the summer. This species also shows promise for being useful in reclaiming mining sites with high saline tailings.

Phenology: Bloom time: May-July; Fruit ripens: August-September.

Propagation: Cold stratify seeds at 40º F (4º C) for 60-120 days. Scarifying seeds or a warm stratification period for 60 days prior to cold stratification may increase germination rates. Red-Twig Dogwood is easily propagated from division, layering and cuttings taken in late summer.

Use by People: Some natives smoked the dried bark during ceremonies (hence the common name kinnikinnik which usually refers to Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). They also boiled it and used it medicinally for coughs, colds, fevers, and diarrhea. The sap was used on arrowheads to poison animals. The berries were eaten by some tribes, often mixed with Serviceberries. The bark was used for dye and the stems for basketry, fish traps, and arrows. The branches are attractive in floral arrangements.

Use by Wildlife: Red-twig Dogwood is an important browse for deer, elk, moose, Mountain Goats, and rabbits. Although not as desirable as other fruits, the berries often persist through winter, providing food when other fruits are gone. Mice, voles and other rodents eat the bark and the berries. Turkeys, pheasants, quail, and grouse eat the fruit & buds. Bears, ducks, and trout also eat the berries along with many songbirds, the primary agents of seed dispersal. Beavers use Red-twig Dogwood for food and to build dams and lodges. Red-Twig Dogwood provides cover and nesting habitat for small mammals and birds and along with other riparian species provides good mule deer fawning and fawn-rearing areas. Flowers are primarily pollinated by bees. This species is also a larval host of the Spring Azure Butterfly.


USDA Plants Database

Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria

WTU Herbarium Image Collection, Plants of Washington, Burke Museum

E-Flora BC, Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Jepson Eflora, University of California


Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

USDA Forest Service-Fire Effects Information System

Virginia Tech ID Fact Sheet

Native Plants Network, Propagation Protocol Database

Plants for a Future Database

Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn

Red Twig Dogwood Care: Tips For Growing A Red Twig Dogwood

Growing a red twig dogwood is a great way to add spectacular color to the winter garden. The stems, which are green in spring and summer, turn bright red when the foliage drops off in autumn. The shrub produces creamy-white flowers in spring and berries that ripen from green to white by the end of summer. Both fruits and flowers look good against the dark background of the foliage, but pale in comparison to the brilliant winter display.

Growing a Red Twig Dogwood

Don’t confuse red twig dogwood trees with other dogwood trees. While both the tree and the shrub belong to the Cornus genus, red twig dogwoods never grow to become trees. There are two species of Cornus called red twig dogwoods: Tatarian dogwood (C. alba) and Redosier dogwood (C. sericea). The two species are very similar.

Red twig dogwood is one of those plants where more is better. They look fantastic when planted in groups or as an informal hedge. When planting red twig dogwoods, give them plenty of room. They grow up to 8 feet tall with an 8 foot spread. Overcrowding encourages diseases and causes less attractive, thin stems.

Red Twig Dogwood Care

Red twig dogwood care is minimal except for pruning. Annual pruning is essential to keep the brilliant colors of the twigs. The primary goal of pruning red twig dogwoods is to remove the old stems that no longer show good winter color.

Remove about a third of the stems at ground level every year. Cut out old, weak stems as well as well as those that are damaged, discolored, or growing poorly. This method of pruning keeps the color bright and the shrub vigorous. After thinning you can shorten the stems to control the height if you’d like. Cut back the entire shrub to 9 inches above the ground if it becomes overgrown or out of control. This is a good way to quickly renew the plant, but it leaves a bare spot in the landscape until it regrows.

Water weekly in the absence of rain for the first couple of months after planting red twig dogwoods, and cut back on the water once the shrub is established. Mature shrubs only need watering during dry spells.

Feed the plant once a year with a layer of compost or a sprinkling of slow-released fertilizer over the root zone.

Red-twig dogwoods in winter, growing on a bank at Hershey Gardens.

(George Weigel)


I’ve been seeing some really nice bushes with red branches that stick up from the ground. A friend told me they’re red-twig dogwoods. Are they very easy to grow?

A: That sounds like red-twig dogwood alright. This plant is in the same family as the much better known dogwood trees (Cornus), except these grow as multi-stem shrubs in the 6- to 8-foot range.

Red-twigs are at their best in winter when the leaves drop and the stems “ripen” to their brightest color. They also come in versions with golden or yellow stems.

The plants get creamy-white flower clusters in spring, a smattering of waxy-white berries in summer and in some varieties, fairly nice burgundy or purplish fall foliage. Winter is their prime time, though, especially with new snow at their feet and a backdrop of evergreens as their “curtain.”

Generally, red-twigs are fairly easy to grow. I don’t consider them quite as picky as American dogwood trees, which don’t like clay soil, broiling summer heat and excess sun and are prone to borers, powdery mildew and anthracnose.

You’ll mainly find three related versions at the garden center: Tatarian dogwood (Cornus alba), an Asian species with white berries and red stems; blood-twig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea), a European native with black berries and crimson/gold stems, and red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), a U.S. native with white berries and red winter stems.

My favorite of the bunch is the blood-twig dogwood variety ‘Midwinter Fire.’ It has two-tone yellow and red winter stems that practically glow and was good enough to earn a Gold Medal Award from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

‘Cardinal’ and ‘Arctic Fire’ are two good varieties of native red osier dogwood. They’re both 5- to 6-footers and have attractive purple fall foliage.

‘Sibirica’ is a compact Tatarian dogwood with red winter stems. Ivory Halo™ and ‘Elegantissima’ are variegated versions of that species.

I’ve found that variegated-leaf shrub dogwoods seem to be most prone to leaf-spot and powdery-mildew diseases, although any of them can get those.

All shrub dogwoods appreciate water during hot, dry spells. They’re not the most drought-tough species. They’re also vulnerable to deer damage if you’ve got any of those four-legged eating machines around.

Full sun is fine with adequate water. A bit of afternoon shade in a somewhat damp spot is perfect.

Bailey’s Red Twig Dogwood stems

Bailey’s Red Twig Dogwood stems

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Bailey’s Red Twig Dogwood in spring

Bailey’s Red Twig Dogwood in spring

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Height: 10 feet

Spread: 10 feet


Hardiness Zone: 3a

Other Names: C.stolonifera, Red-Osier Dogwood


A very hardy shrub, ideal for general garden use in northern landscapes; showy red stems stand out against the winter snow, excellent for massing; great for water’s edge, border, or bed

Ornamental Features

Bailey’s Red Twig Dogwood has clusters of white flowers at the ends of the branches in late spring. It has green foliage throughout the season. The pointy leaves turn an outstanding brick red in the fall. It produces white berries in late summer. The red branches are extremely showy and add significant winter interest.

Landscape Attributes

Bailey’s Red Twig Dogwood is a multi-stemmed deciduous shrub with a more or less rounded form. Its average texture blends into the landscape, but can be balanced by one or two finer or coarser trees or shrubs for an effective composition.

This shrub will require occasional maintenance and upkeep, and should only be pruned after flowering to avoid removing any of the current season’s flowers. It is a good choice for attracting birds to your yard. Gardeners should be aware of the following characteristic(s) that may warrant special consideration;

  • Suckering

Bailey’s Red Twig Dogwood is recommended for the following landscape applications;

  • Mass Planting
  • Hedges/Screening
  • General Garden Use
  • Naturalizing And Woodland Gardens
  • Container Planting

Planting & Growing

Bailey’s Red Twig Dogwood will grow to be about 10 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 10 feet. It tends to fill out right to the ground and therefore doesn’t necessarily require facer plants in front, and is suitable for planting under power lines. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 20 years.

This shrub does best in full sun to partial shade. It is an amazingly adaptable plant, tolerating both dry conditions and even some standing water. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments. This is a selection of a native North American species.

Bailey’s Red Twig Dogwood makes a fine choice for the outdoor landscape, but it is also well-suited for use in outdoor pots and containers. Because of its height, it is often used as a ‘thriller’ in the ‘spiller-thriller-filler’ container combination; plant it near the center of the pot, surrounded by smaller plants and those that spill over the edges. Note that when grown in a container, it may not perform exactly as indicated on the tag – this is to be expected. Also note that when growing plants in outdoor containers and baskets, they may require more frequent waterings than they would in the yard or garden. Be aware that in our climate, most plants cannot be expected to survive the winter if left in containers outdoors, and this plant is no exception. Contact our store for more information on how to protect it over the winter months.

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