How to Grow Cornus common name Dogwood

Cornus sanguinea, common name Dogwood are a lovely group of deciduous shrubs, many have attractive variegated foliage as illustrated left above. The leaves turn a stunning red in autumn as shown in the centre image, and the stems provide strong winter colour. There are about 45 species in the genus, just a few illustrated are here all in the C. sanguinea group.

Grown for their colourful winter stems throughout the winter they look fabulous planted as a group, and to good effect to display the red stems, plant Cornus where they will be back lit by the low winter sun, or the sun will strike the red stems. One of the most popular is the Cornus alba 'Sibirica'  illustrated right which has strong red stems and good autumn colour. Also Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' which has orange stems and Cornus sericea 'Flaviramea' with yellow stems. 

This group of Cornus will grow in moist soil and look good alongside a stream. 

Cornus is easy to grow shrub with a preference for sun to produce the best colour, but tolerant of most conditions. Cornus will thrive in damp soil which makes it an ideal shrub for planting streamside or alongside a pond in damp soil.

Cornus cut back hard

Pruning Cornus for winter colour

This type of cornus is cut back hard in early spring around mid-March, (after the first year or two once the shrub is established,) to around 20 centimetres as per the image. This helps to ensure good colour in the winter stems the following year. Cornus need no real attention; plant and they will grow. To keep the stems in really good colour, Dogwoods do best if cut back almost to the ground in March which looks savage at the time, but they quickly grow back. It also means you have a clump of lovely red coloured peas stick /small plant supports for the coming growing season.

Cornus alba 'Sibirica' with Winter colour

Cornus alba lit by winter sun

Cornus sericea 'Flaviramea and image of the varigated foliage

 Cornus sericea 'Flaviramea
Cornus sericea 'Flaviramea

Cornus are grown for their strong winter colour but it is easy to overlook the fact that Cornus has attractive variegated foliage which looks good with other shrubs. In the image Cornus, which is on the right is planted with Cotinus Coggygria 'Royal Purple' to great effect. I snapped this as part of a supermarket car park landscaping and was very effective.  

Cornus with Coggygria Royal Purple
Cornus with Coggygria Royal Purple

This type of Dogwoods are really tough. The image below left shows a bunch of Cornus whips, which are small immature shrubs sold more cheaply as opposed to a mature pot grown shrub. If you want to plant a group of shrubs, say 10 or more, from the cost perspective it is worth looking at whips. Obviously they take longer to mature, but if you don't mind waiting a couple of years or so this can be an economical way of mass planting.

When these whips were purchased there was no immediate spot for the plants, so they were temporarily housed in a tug with some soil and then, unfortunately, forgotten about.  Here they are some months later and as you can see from the image, none worse for wear. In fact, the whips were doing quite well in the tug, growing, supporting new spring leaves and were then happily planted out into a damp boggy area of the garden where they continue to do well as shown in the large image above. 

The prunings are decorative and can be used as small plant /pea shoot supports, as shown here with some Bamboo prunings .

Cornus Grown for their Bracts

Cornus  Cornus controversa  The Wedding Cake tree

There are also species of Cornus grown for their colourful bracks. Illustrated is Cornus controversa, common name the Wedding Cake Tree, which is an eye-catching tree with layers of white bracts. 

It is deciduous and will grow in partial shade or full sun in moisture retentive soil. It has lovely tiered branches, white flowers in spring, followed by berries and strong autumn colour. Although slow growing, ultimately it will grow up to 15m. It requires no maintenance or pruning, very easy to grow.

Other popular Cornus grown for their colourful bracts are Cornus kousa var. chinensis also known as Chinese dogwood which has many bright white flowers in the spring and good autumn colour. Same growing conditions but a more compact shrub up to 5m. There are also pink varieties of the Chinese dogwood such as Cornus Kousa 'Miss Satomi' which is even smaller up to 2.5m.

Cornus is very easy to grow, low maintenance and almost indestructible.

Last updated 27.01.2021