The Violet Fern

A Colorful Tale of a Garden in the Making

Going Native: Redtwig Dogwood

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I have two Redtwig Dogwood shrubs in my garden. One was tucked into the back corner of our property when we moved into our home, and one I purchased. I am guestimating the existing one is a Redtwig or Redosier Dogwood because they are common in our area. The one I purchased is Cornus sericea Cardinal.

The neglected shrub in the corner I moved out into our backyard. I gave it more growing room and pruned it hard. It had a main, gnarly trunk that was twisted like a pretzel and growing back onto itself. This I cut back to the ground. Any stems that looked old and grey, I also cut back to the ground. It has come back nicely – bright new, red stems.

The Cardinal Dogwood shrub will be in its third year. It has grown to 10′ tall and now I hope it begins to fill in. Redtwig Dogwoods provide year round interest in the garden. Butterfly-attracting, flat-topped clusters of creamy white star-like flowers appear in Spring to early Summer followed by pea-sized white berries.

The berries attract birds. At least 18 species of birds eat these berries including the Gray Catbird. It also provides dense cover for songbirds during the Summer as well as a few insect snacks. Waterfowl, marsh and shorebirds are also attracted by Redosier as well as large and small mammals. This would include deer who browse on Redosier year round. I do not have many deer visitors in my small village (although it is not unheard of). If you have frequent deer visitors you may want to protect your Dogwood shrubs, or maybe just let them work for you for once and prune that Dogwood hedge. My rabbit is doing a little light pruning on the shrub out back.

In Autumn, the foliage turns from orange-red to burgundy.

The stems also begin to turn red. In Winter, these stems “bloom” in the garden. Frosted by snow, they glow. Placed in front of an evergreen, their color is even more pronounced.

The Brooklyn Botanical Garden Guide “Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants” lists the Redosier Dogwood as an alternative to Ligustrum amurense Privet, and other Privet including Japanese Privet. If you own an invasive Privet, maybe you will consider planting our native Redtwig Dogwood instead. Maybe, as you gaze upon your garden this Winter, you are wondering what to plant that could provide more Winter interest. Here is a good candidate for a moist, rich soil, even one that floods occasionally, though it will adapt to a variety of soils just not prolonged drought. You might also attract the Spring Azure, Celastrina ladon who uses the Redosier as a host plant.

Sources: The Brooklyn Botanical Garden Guide “Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants,” Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, “The Audubon Backyard Birdwatcher, Birdfeeders and Bird Gardens” by Robert Burton and Stephen W. Kress 

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Author: Kathy Sturr

Cultivating art, growing soul, and creating plant-based food in the beautiful 1000 Islands, New York and Cedar Key, Old Florida.

4 thoughts on “Going Native: Redtwig Dogwood

  1. It is really pretty year round. I don't think I've ever seen the berries before. I bought a bundle of Redtwig twigs and put them in some containers for an accent. I noticed that one is starting to leaf out. Wish I had space to plant it in my garden.

  2. They really are a great shrub year round. We grow acres of them at the nursery and I find many natives growing wild at the Falls. Easy to spot too in the snow, like a beautiful beacon for a passerby.

  3. I love mine and have 4 scattered in the back garden. I have had occasional flowers but never berries…I think the deer prune them enough that they do not flower or bear fruit…if the deer don't prune them I do…I should think about when I do this…love to have the berries

  4. great shrub – love it with the frost – I have a deciduous one although it is not native to here, love it.

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