Home landscapes can be as beautiful in the winter as in summer if you plan ahead. For example, brilliant red stems take center stage after the leaves on red twig dogwoods fall. Several dogwood species are marketed as red twig dogwoods, all growing 3 to 8 feet tall, depending on cultivar. Like many other plants, they thrive in moist, sunny locations.
Red twig dogwoods, which include tartarian dogwood (Cornus alba), redosier dogwood (C. sericea, also known as C. stolonifera) and bloodtwig dogwood (C. sanguinea), grow best in full sun in moist, well-drained soil. Once well established, they're moderately drought tolerant and need supplemental watering only during hot or windy weather, but these adaptable shrubs also grow well in landscapes subject to periodic flooding. Red twig dogwoods tolerate partial shade, although their red twig color is best when the shrub grows in full sun. For the most intense color, cut back one-third to one-half of the stems to ground level in late winter or early spring, since the youngest stems have the brightest color. Feed the shrubs with an all-purpose shrub fertilizer after pruning.
Trees that enjoy the same sunny, damp sites as red twig dogwoods include red maples (Acer rubrum), pin and red oaks (Quercus palustris and Q. rubra) and many of the birches (Betula spp.). Austrian black pines (Pinus nigra) also thrive in moist, well-drained soil, as does the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). For sites that experience periodic flooding, consider white and weeping willows (Salix alba and S. babylonica), bald cypresses (Taxodium distichum) and alders (Alnus ssp.).
Red twig dogwood's bright red winter color really sings when it's planted near yellow-tinged evergreens such as arborvitae (Thuja spp.) and junipers (Juniperus spp.), both of which grow well in damp soil that's well-drained. In summer, the variegated foliage of red twig dogwood cultivars such as Elegantissima and Arctic Sun sparkles against dark-leaved shrubs such as hollies (Ilex spp.) and viburnums (Viburnum spp.). If your red twig dogwoods are in a boggy spot that doesn't drain well, winterberry hollies (I. verticillata), summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) and highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are all good companion shrubs.
Hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) thrive in the same damp, sunny conditions as red twig dogwoods and put on a show-stopping display of huge flowers in late summer and fall. Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia), ornamental grasses such as fountain grass (Pennisetum spp.) and maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis), asters (Aster spp.) and daylilies (Hemerocallis spp. and hybrids) all grow well in moist, well-drained soil in full sun.
For red twig dogwood plantings in partial shade, combine the shrubs with perennials such as primrose (Primula spp.), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), golden creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea') or astilbe (Astilbe spp. and hybrids). Good shrub companions for partially shaded sites include golden privet (Ligustrum x vicaryi), azaleas (Rhododendron spp. and hybrids), heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) and andromeda (Pieris japonica). Shade-tolerant trees include shadblow (Amelanchier canadensis), Japanese maples (A. palmatum) and, of course, any of the tree-form dogwoods, such as the native American flowering dogwood (C. florida) or the kousa dogwood (C. kousa).
- Monrovia: Arctic Fire Red Twig Dogwood
- Monrovia: Arctic Sun Red Twig Dogwood
- Monrovia: Variegated Red Twig Dogwood
- University of Tennessee Gardens: Red Twig Dogwood
- University of Rhode Island: Rain Gardens
- Manual of Woody Landscape Plants; Michael A. Dirr
- The National Arboretum Book of Outstanding Garden Plants; Jacqueline Heriteau
Marie Roper began writing in 1987, preparing sales and training materials for Citadel, Inc. and then newsletters for Fullerton Garden Center. A trained horticulturist, she was a garden designer and adult-education teacher for the USDA Graduate School in Washington, D.C. Roper has a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Maryland.