Natives Spotlight: Red Osier Dogwood

Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea), can be a bit unruly during the growing season. The two in my backyard tend to flop as the season progresses, perhaps because the large shade leaves weigh down the slender stems. Once the leaves fall the stems return to a nice upright position. This is the time of year when these shrubs come into their own, the red stems providing winter cheer, especially when highlighted against snow.

I usually prune my Red Osier Dogwood pretty hard in February, to encourage new growth and bright stems. The tradeoff is that I don’t get flowers, since they bloom on new wood. This year I plan to experiment with cutting a few older stems to the ground and leaving others. Even though the floral display is not considered this shrub’s strongest feature, it would be nice to have some blossoms, as well as berries for the birds.

This spring I learned by accident just how easy it is to propagate these plants. I decided to use some of the trimmed stems to make a funky little trellis for my pea plants. I put three stems upright in the ground, and loosely attached some stems to them horizontally, using several of the shrub’s flexible small twigs to tie the pieces together.  Later in the spring I noticed that leaves were unfurling on one of the upright stems. Voila, I had inadvertently started a new dogwood in my vegetable garden!

Red Osier Dogwood is a native that is widespread throughout the U.S. except for the southern states. It likes moist soil, but should do well in all but the driest areas, and can handle a range of light conditions from sun to shade. Plant these shrubs where you can seem them from a window in winter and they are sure to lift your spirits in the dark months.

About the Author 
 Rachel Shaw focuses on vegetable gardening and growing native plants in her small yard in Rockville, MD. She blogs at
   This guest blog post is part of a monthly Native Plants series that Rachel authors for Washington Gardener Magazine around the 10th of each month.


Maureen said…
These truly are a beautiful sight during the winter months. You're right, they do need some serious pruning in a small garden. Well worth the effort!

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