Meet the Twigs

Cornus alba 'Elegantissima' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ with garden mates (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

If this little twiggy went to market, it would come home with lots of easygoing cornus brethren to make your acquaintance.  Because many are native, twig dogwoods (cornus cvs.) tolerate a variety of conditions, making them extremely versatile for garden plantings. They love moister soils and lots of sun, but will accept dry spells and partial shade without much ado in zones 3-8. During the spring and summer months these gems fill out with lush green or variegated leaves (Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’), in a dense shrub form that melds nicely with any landscape style.  The majority produce white flowers in summer, followed in fall by blue or white berries that are quickly gobbled up by our feathered friends. Although I love my companion twigs for their many cheerful attributes, it’s the vibrant winter’s bark that make me go ‘gaga’.  Only revealed when the cold weather arrives, twigs offer hues we’re longing to see during the brown months of winter.  Bright stems range in a plethora of shades: red (non-native Cornus alba), yellow-actually chartreuse-and red (native Cornus sericea), and burgundy (native cornus racemosa and amomum), so they provide razzle-dazzle during the dormant months, and carefree style the rest of the year.

Red Twig Dogwood with Rheum in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Red Twig Dogwood with Rheum (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

There are a few options when it comes to maintenance.  Cornus doesn’t require fertilizing or primping, but you may want to think about pruning.  How much and how often depends on the outcome you’re looking for.  Optimally, some twigs can grow over 8′ in a few years (and just as wide) if you want them to.  Because they are suckering, they can spread in several years, but it’s easy to restrain them with pruning and competition from other plants.  As twigs age, the older branches tend to lose color and vigor.  If you don’t want much height from your cornus, prune it to the ground in early spring.  You will be rewarded with lots of fresh sprouts within a month.  If, however, you are like me and want some height, you can randomly prune out the older branches every spring, allowing the one and two year old stems to continue anchoring the scene.  As some of my cornus are used as a background to my winter garden, the prominence needs to be maintained.  This selective pruning has worked very well for me.

Vibrant cornus stems ignite the winter landscape in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Vibrant cornus stems ignite the winter landscape (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

I hesitate to say anything bad about the twig dogwood, but am compelled to share that this shrub is not without a few pit falls and can be prone to borers, aphids, mildew, leaf spot and canker.  That said, I find it easy to prune off any offensive sprigs without causing undue disturbance.  Not one to end on a bad note, the twig dogwood offers one more perk: simple propagation.  In other words, if I can do it, you can do it!  Just cut a stem and root it in water or stick into moist soil (in spring), and Viola, a new twig dogwood will soon be flourishing in your landscape this year.  Now, what more could you ask of a new acquaintance?

*For other trees with interesting winter bark, visit: Winter Bones

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

A Garden for All