The middle-range of size – plants about as big as we are – is an important zone in the garden. While smaller flowering plants can bring color, and tall trees create enclosure and look great from a distance, it is the medium sized shrubs that fill the garden, and make it look complete. They catch our attention immediately, because they are at eye level. In colder parts of the country, months of every year are spent in winter, with many plants bare and leafless. We want to have something attractive to see at that time, and even more so among these medium sized shrubs that are so prominent. Something easy to grow and adaptable, but striking and eye-catching.
In those cooler areas, few shrubs fit that description as well as the Cardinal Red Dogwood. The most striking feature of this shrub is its winter twigs, which are a rich red – beautiful against both bare earth, dormant lawns or snow. This feature draws our attention, and it brings interest just at that most lifeless time of year. Added to that, this is a plant that thrives not only in ordinary garden soil, but also in wet and even flooded soil, with a natural affinity for water. As well, it is a selected form of a North American native shrub, so it has every right to be in our gardens.
Plant the Cardinal Red Dogwood behind smaller flowering shrubs – it will be at its best when they are resting for the winter. Use it to fill spaces in the background of your garden, or among the foundation planting around your home. Make an informal hedge with it to separate one part of your garden from another, or to mark the boundary of your property from surrounding fields or woodland. Best of all, if you have a pond or stream, plant it around the banks, on the opposite side from where you are, to soften and enrich the contours of the water. Anywhere you have a low-lying area that is often wet, this shrub is the ideal choice. In winter you can cut branches to bring indoors to make colorful vases during those drab months.
The Cardinal Red Dogwood is a multi-stemmed shrub that grows between 6 and 9 feet tall, or even a little less, depending on soil conditions and if and how it is pruned. It spreads into a dense clump by sending new stems up from the ground around it, but it is not invasive. Young stems begin life green, but as they mature and ripen the bark turns orange to bright red, colors that are retained and become richer and more prominent through the winter months. As the stems become older the bark turns brown, but some pruning encourages a continuous supply of those desirable red branches.
The leaves are 2 to 5 inches long, oval in form, with a smooth outline and an attractive appearance. In spring and summer they are rich green, but in fall they turn handsome shades of red, orange and purple, adding to the glory of that magnificent season. In late spring tiny white flowers appear in flat heads 2 to 3 inches across. These are pretty insignificant, but they can be followed by attractive clusters of white berries, sometimes tinted with purple. These are an additional feature of this shrub, and they also provide food for wild birds in winter. As the colorful leaves drop to the ground in late fall, the brilliant red twigs are revealed once again, the highlight of the multiple features of this shrub.
The Cardinal Red Dogwood is a fantastic addition in any garden, but especially in colder areas. It is perfectly hardy to minus 40 degrees, so even in the coldest parts of zone 3 it will thrive. Yet it also grows well in much warmer areas, all the way into zone 8. Further south it will not grow so well, as it needs some winter cold to mature its buds each year. It grows perfectly well in ordinary garden soil, but always does best in moister soil, enriched with organic material. It will grow in areas that are sometimes flooded, and even grow in spots with an inch or two of water over the soil most of the time. It is an appropriate choice for heavy clay soil too. It has few significant pests or diseases, even deer usually leave it alone, and this shrub is an easy and trouble-free addition to any sized garden.
Although it can be left untouched to grow naturally, many gardeners prefer to prune it to keep those red twigs coming. There are two methods used. One is to remove about 25% of the oldest wood every year, cutting branches out at the base. Alternatively, cut the whole plant back to 6 inches tall every 2 or 3 years. This will produce the longest, brightest twigs, and a dense, upright form, but the plant will only be 3 or 4 feet tall. The choice is yours, depending on your inclination and garden.
The Red Dogwood, Cornus sericea, is a native shrub, growing wild across most of the country, but especially in the northern states. It is usually found by rivers or lakes, in swamps and in wetlands generally. The form called ‘Cardinal’ is a selection found around 1987 that has much more brilliant twig coloring than wild plants, and it is also a little more compact – both ideal qualities for the garden. Our plants are grown by rooting stem pieces of correctly-identified plants, not from seed, which always produces inferior and variable plants of poorer quality for the garden. This plant is a garden staple in cold areas, and our stocks will not last long. Order now while we can still satisfy your order.