Pruning back dogwoods/Cornus for stem colour

The dogwoods or the various forms of Cornus make a massive impact in the garden for the winter months. Their highly coloured stems really shine out in the winter light. The best colour comes from the youngest of growth and if you are growing them for just the winter colours, now is the time to prune them.

It is an easy job and to carry it it you may need a pruning saw, a pair of secateurs, a pair of loppers, gloves and eye protection. It may also be worth catching up with my blogs on pruning cuts to help you during the task. Part 1 is here, part 2 here and part 3 here.

They are 3 ways to prune these dogwoods, first way is to do nothing and let them grow to their big size, second way is to coppice them to the ground and allow all new grow for next winter, main drawback is that you don’t get any flowers on them, the last way is to every 2 years thin out half the plant and leave the one year old stems in to flower, the stem colour isn’t as rich in theses 2yr old stems but it’s ok

This is the step by step part of pruning the dogwoods down as per coppicing them.

1) the main plant, this ones not been touched for a few years and you can see the bottom is full of old stems and dead wood, also notice how green and brown these older stems look, no where near the bright red of the younger Cornus stems

2) I try to get these old stems down to about 150-200mm if I can but finding the buds can be a slight problem. They are opposite meaning you they are normally in a straight line I have tried to mark some of the buds off in the above pictures to give you a rough idea of what they look like

3) now as they are opposite buds they need a straight cut just above the buds and on Plants this size I just use the saw and then the secateurs for the smaller stems. There are too many stems of this plant, so have removed some down to the base of the plant and cut the dead wood out as well.

4) The finished coppiced dogwood.

This is the other way by leaving some of the 1 year old stems in and removing the older 2yr old stems, this leaves the plant to flower later on in the year

This is the plant before I started pruning

You can see I am thinning down the older stems leaving the young stems

And once I have finished you can see all young 1year old stems left, these will flower and be removed this time next year and the new shoots made in the summer

There we go, I hope that helps you to get the best from your dogwoods.

There is also a very good use for some of the spent prunings but we will look at that next week!

8 Comments Add yours

  1. tonytomeo says:

    This is so embarrassing! Pictures of what we did to ours will post at midnight in about two hours. I wanted to cut them to the ground, but had to leave stubs so that they would not get trampled. They are not the nice ornamental cultivars like yours, but just the native species. I really do not like them. We had to cut back about a quarter mile of informal hedge. We left about thirty feet of another short hedge to grow wild.

    1. thomashort says:

      They look pretty good Tony, must admit I do like the red forms best but don’t mind the green forms as well, give a good cover 👍

      1. tonytomeo says:

        These were grown from the locally native specimens just a few miles away. They have a nice dark burnished red color close up, but are not much to look at from a distance, especially when they get overgrown and not growing so vigorously. More colorful garden varieties (cultivars) would be more colorful, but not so natural.

  2. Your great post was just in time to catch me before I tackled my one small cornus in a 2litre pot. I will cut down half the stems, there isn’t much of it, and let the rest flower and next year cut down the older ones. Thanks for the timely advice.

    1. thomashort says:

      More than welcome Julie and so pleased you found it useful 😀

  3. Tony Powell says:

    Glad you are going to mention the prunings. Some of mine go in a vase in the house but any other good ones go into the borders in groups like the original plant, they can last for a couple of months giving a good display. They can also be used to support taller herbaceous plants.

    1. thomashort says:

      Very true indeed very useful for a lot of things in the garden, the colour can last for so long as well can’t it

  4. Sally Gray says:

    Hi, I have planted Cornus Sibirica for lovely red winter stems and have started the coppicing as they have been in the ground for about 3 years. However, if I take these red stems in winter so that I can sell them to florists…. will this have a negative impact upon the regrowth / future colouring of stems?
    Many thanks, Sally

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