Everything You Need to Know about the Red Twig Dogwood

Red Twig Dogwoods are shrubs that are versatile and multipurpose in a landscaping scheme. They offer lovely red branches with green leaves and delicate white flower tufts in the spring and summer, with vibrant and highly attractive red twigs which infuse color into a fall and winter landscape.

They’re decorative plants that are appreciated every season of the year. If you’re considering adding red twig dogwoods to your yard then here is everything that you need to know about them to get the best results.

What is a red twig dogwood?

The red twig dogwood plant, also known as the Cornus sericea is a shrub that truly is at its best during the winter months. The best growing zones for this perennial shrub are 2 through 9. The shrub reaches a height of between 6 and 8 feet.

The flowers are fragrant and in the winter time it produces tiny berries and the foliage is also colorful until the leaves drop in winter. Some varieties produce yellow twigs and they’re generally smaller in size. Red twig dogwoods can spread between and 12 feet in width with a blooming season from May to June.

Propagation of the red twig dogwood

There are a few different effective ways of propagating the red twig dogwood if you want to grow more plants from the original. The first method involves taking a cutting of young growth from the parent plant.

Simply cut a branch of young growth from the dogwood shrub that is taken at the lowest internode of the branch. Immediately place the new cutting into rich soil that is not soaking wet, but contains ample moisture.

The red twig dogwood is a plant that is among the easiest to propagate through this method. Keep the planted cutting moist until it shows signs of new growth in the form of new buds and leaves. If you want to increase the chances of success, you can also dip the cut end of the cutting into rooting hormone, but it’s usually not necessary.

The second way to create a new red twig dogwood shrub is to look around the parent plant and isolate suckers which have spread and begun to grow outside of the parent plant. These plants have already formed a root system so all you need to do is dig them up and replant in a different spot.

Different varieties

By now you know that red twig dogwoods are not to be confused with the larger flowering dogwood trees. There are different species of this shrub which are all a part of the Cornus genus, but vary from there.

The red twig and red osier varieties are Cornus sericea. The red osiers are native to parts of North American with red twigs native to Asia. Bloodtwig dogwoods are European in origin, also known as Cornus sanguinea.

There are different cultivars among the species. While the red osier and red twig both have red stems, the C. sericea Flaviramia has yellow stems , and the Cardinal cultivar is multi stemmed and rapidly growing with red stems. The Cornus alba variety has leaves that are a greenish gray in color with a white border in a variegated pattern.

Care and maintenance

Red Twig dogwood shrubs do the best when they are planted in an area that receives full sunlight, but they can tolerate partial shade. The soil should be well draining, rich in humus and moist.

These plants are not tolerant to long periods of dry soil and they require regular and thorough watering. Keep an eye on the moisture level in the soil and it’s okay to let them get dry for a couple of days but it’s not recommended to go beyond this.

Mature plants are more resilient to dry conditions but younger plants require regular watering. You should also fertilize dogwood shrubs just once a year. you can spread a layer of compost down which will give the plant a burst of nutrients or you can opt for a granular commercial slow released fertilizer and apply it near the area of the roots.

Red twig dogwood shrubs are one of the most amazing low maintenance plants known to man. We must however, issue a word of caution about this shrub. These plants have a tendency to grow so prolifically that if you don’t stay on top of them, they can get away from you quite easily and take over an area, even choking out nearby plants.


Pruning is a necessary part of the maintenance of a red twig dogwood and it should be placed as a high priority. Failure to prune these shrubs properly will result in a loss of the vibrant fall colors.

The objective in pruning this shrub is to take off the old stems that don’t turn a vibrant color in the winter months. They’ve outlived their purpose and it’s time for them to go.

The branches which need to be removed are those which are weak, old and those which have been damaged or are failing to thrive. Red twig dogwoods put off significant growth during the growing year and the branches will need to be thinned as well. They have a tendency to grow out of control if not properly pruned.

You can prune away up to a third of the plant and even cut it back to a height of 9 inches to discover that it will quickly put on new growth during the warm months.

Common problem areas

Some of the more common issues that people experience with their red twig dogwood plants are diseases and pest infestations. A common disease is powdery mildew.

This is a fungus that is characterized by its appearance of a powdery looking mildew that is fine in texture and white in color. It is seen on the leaves and can lead to discoloration and defoliation.

It can also be spread to other dogwoods with a breeze that carries the spores. It happens when there is poor aeration in between the plants, and most often in shady areas.

Keep the area clean and raked, remove and destroy infected branches and ensure that there is ample sunlight and air circulation around the plant as prevention. You may also use a fungicide to treat the condition, according to Clemson studies. Fungicides work on the majority of red twig dogwood diseases.

They go on to warn against pest infestations as well, including the dogwood borer, scales and dogwood club gall midges. Infected branches should be removed and burned to kill larvae before they hatch and spread to other dogwoods in the vicinity. Permethrin is effective against dogwood borers as a pesticide or horticultural oil which is more environmentally friendly.

Uses for the red twig dogwood

The red twig dogwood is an ornamental plant that is used commonly in hedges and rock gardens. Although the flowers are small and grow in flat clusters, they are lovely when they appear and the berries that form in the fall and winter are highly decorative in either white or blue colors.

Some artisans prune and retain the branches to weave baskets from the discarded materials, which is a great way to re-purpose what would otherwise be considered waste. If you’re a patient person you can also prune them in a variety of different ways to stimulate growth for a hedge, or to make them more attractive as stand alone shrubs.

They’re a versatile plant that have multiple purposes in your landscaping scheme. These are just a few of the many things that you can use a red twig dogwood for in your landscaping.

Medicinal value

While some ornamental plants have been known to be poisonous, even deadly, there are no known hazards associated with the Cornus sericea, alba, stolonifera plants in the family Cornaceae. In addition to being classified as a deciduous shrub, it is also categorized as an herbal plant.

The Red Osier Dogwood which is native to North America has long been used for medicinal purposes by Native American tribes. Although not as much in modern times, it provided a host of treatments for common ailments in humans.

The bank of the shrub contains an astringent with tonic qualities. It was used both internally and externally for the treatment of pain relief as an analgesic, for fevers, diarrhea, problems with the skin and as a mild stimulant.

It has also been used to treat eye conditions such as styes, for colds and coughs, and as a wound dressing using the bark shavings to control bleeding. It can even be eaten as the fruit is edible, although it’s a bit on the bitter side.

This plant served an important purpose during the days before modern pharmaceuticals offered relief from common health conditions. It’s entirely possible that because of this plant alone, the quality of life for indigenous people was significantly improved through its use.

Why red twig dogwoods are excellent choices for any landscape

There is a condition for the belief that a red twig dogwood is a good choice for any landscape. You must be the kind of person who doesn’t mind doing a lot of pruning to keep the shrub in check.

Having said this, it’s one of the easiest shrubs to grow. It’s nearly weatherproof so regardless of the climate that you live in, with a few exceptions, it’s likely to thrive and provide beauty for your landscape in all four seasons, or as many seasons as you happen to have in your locale.

The small white flowers offer a subtle accent in warmer months and the berries and vibrant along with the colorful red twigs that brighten up fall and winter landscapes. These shrubs make excellent soil erosion prevention tools because of the dense root systems that develop and they can even thrive on riverbanks and in rocky areas.

They’re low maintenance with the exception of the need for pruning and they can even be used to hide an eyesore. Red twig dogwoods are a versatile plant that can provide you with a fast growing privacy hedge to keep prying eyes from spying on you. They’re an all season plant that offer almost limitless possibilities for practically any type of landscaping scheme, especially if you’re into wildflower gardens.

Final thoughts

Most hobby gardeners are really not aware of how amazing the red twig dogwood shrub is. There are some who see it as an overbearing plant that takes over and is more of a nuisance, but this could not be further from the truth.

It is a versatile plant that offers many benefits that the majority of the population don’t know about. Sure, it grows fast, but this is more of a benefit than a curse, because it makes the red twig dogwood more versatile as a useful plant.

If you have problem areas you want to hide, this shrub is a great solution and you can prune it to grow even faster and thicker for a hedge effect. You can keep it simple by trimming away the brushy parts and give it a more ornate look.

It’s going to deliver landscape beautification all year round. Who would ever have imagined that you can even use the bark and roots to treat illness, or to craft unique and beautifully weaved baskets?

It’s a simple and hearty plant that doesn’t take a lot of your time or effort if you stay on top of the sucker growth and prevent it from spreading too far. The red twig dog wood is one of our favorite shrubs for landscaping because of their versatility.

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