Kelsey's Dwarf Red Twig DogwoodCornus sericea 'Kelseyi'
View more from Dogwood Shrubs
buy as a bundle
30 day - ARRIVE AND THRIVE™ guaranteeLearn more
Probiotic Root Stimulant
Kelsey’s Red Twig Dogwood is a low-growing deciduous shrub notable for its bright red winter twigs. This selection of a native bush grows only a little over 2 feet tall and wide, with dense, twiggy growth and glossy summer leaves. Fall color is bright orange, red and purple, and the winter twigs are bright red, looking attractive against snow, or beside water. Grow it as a foreground plant in beds, along paths and driveways, or in natural woodland gardens.
Full sun will bring out the best twig color, but this plant also grows well in partial shade. It thrives in all but dry soils, and it is particularly useful for wet ground, by streams, rivers and ponds, or in low-lying areas, where it grows well. It is very cold resistant, and easy to grow, with no problems. Deer normally leave it alone.
Winter is a colorless season, especially in colder parts of the country, with gray skies and a snow-covered garden. Color at that time is always valuable, but with so many plants simply bare twigs, what can we do? The answer is to paint those twigs bright colors – not literally, but by growing shrubs with colored stems. Against white snow or black earth, red stems really stand out, and especially come to life when the sun shines. The red twig dogwood is a well-known plant to use for this purpose, and it is easy to grow and tolerant of most garden conditions. But it grows tall, to at least 6 feet, and much more if untrimmed. This is far too big for smaller spaces, or for growing in the foreground of beds, which would be a good high-profile position for them. If you have a smaller garden, or need foreground planting, the answer is to grow Kelsey’s Red Twig Dogwood. Growing only a little over 2 feet tall, but with the same red winter twigs and pleasant summer foliage, this little shrub is a winner wherever you need winter color without a lot of height.
Kelsey’s Red Twig Dogwood is a deciduous shrub that forms a low bushy plant, reaching a little over 2 feet tall and wide. It has many vertical branches growing from ground level. The leaves are oval, tapering to a point, with a smooth, glossy surface decorated with prominent veins. They are 2 to 4 inches long, and an attractive rich green. In late spring you may see some clusters of white flowers nestling among the leaves, or at the ends of the branches. These may develop into white berries by late summer, which are attractive, to us and to birds, who often quickly eat them all.
Fall color of the leaves is brilliant and colorful, with shades or red and orange darkening to purples by late fall. Once the leaves fall the beauty of the twigs is revealed, and they remain vibrant and colorful all winter. The lower parts of the branches are brown or greenish, but all the upper parts are bright red, adding a colorful effect to the garden in winter.
Anywhere you feel your garden is drab from late fall to early spring, that is the place to plant this excellent low-growing shrub. Grow it in a bed among other low-growing bushes, or mass plant it along the front of larger beds. Line a walk or driveway with it. It can even be used in planter boxes for winter interest. Because it grows well in wet soil it is perfect lining the bank of a stream or around a pond. As a native plant it fits well into natural gardens and woods, along a path or planted under taller trees and shrubs. Plant the taller Yellow Twig Dogwood behind, for an attractive color contrast.
A great virtue of this plant is its hardiness. It survives winter unharmed in zone 3, and probably even in zone 2, yet it grows well in most warmer areas, beginning to suffer only in the heat and humidity of the south-east in zone 8.
Full sun will give the best twig colors, and strong, bushy growth, but Kelsey’s Red Twig Dogwood grows well in partial shade too, with just a few hours of direct sun during the growing season. It is extremely valuable if you have wet soil, where it thrives, but it grows just as well in ordinary garden soils. Avoid hot, dry sandy areas, although this plant will handle ordinary summer dryness once well-established.
Pests and diseases are rarely problems – some leaf spots may be seen in some years, but these are normally not a serious issue. Deer usually leave it alone. You can grow Kelsey’s Red Twig Dogwood without any maintenance. Removing some of the oldest branches in late winter will stimulate new, more brightly-colored twigs.
We owe this valuable shrub to the work of Harlan P. Kelsey, a 20th century American landscape architect, nurseryman and a now largely-forgotten conservationist who was very influential in his time. As important for conservation in the East as the much more famous John Muir was for the west, Kelsey died in 1958. With his pioneer father he had cleared land to create Kelsey Highlands Nursery in Boxford, Massachusetts. His nursery show-garden and plant collections are today preserved as the Kelsey Arboretum. Originally called the Kelsey Pygmy Dogwood, the plant is a form of the red twig dogwood, Cornus sericea. That bush grows wild across most of North America, usually along the banks of rivers and streams, in swamps, or around the edges of wetlands. We don’t know if Kelsey collected his dogwood in the wild, but he did grow many plants from seed at his nursery, so it was perhaps a seedling he noticed for its dwarf form. It was first released around 1939, and it is just as useful today as it was back then.
Gardening using native plants has become important, and you can do it in your own garden – and enjoy the glow of red twigs in winter – with Kelsey’s gift to gardeners. There is always a big demand for this unique plant, so order yours right away, while we still have stock available.
Kelsey’s Red Twig Dogwood is a versatile plant that pairs well with a variety of companions. For a vibrant winter display, consider pairing it with evergreens like Blue Spruce or Juniper, which will contrast beautifully with the red twigs. In wet soil areas, it can be planted alongside other moisture-loving plants like Iris or Cattails. For a woodland garden, consider pairing it with shade-tolerant plants like Hostas or Ferns. Remember, it’s a low-growing shrub, so it works well as a foreground plant.
Despite its small size, Kelsey’s Red Twig Dogwood can make a big impact in a small garden. Its bright red winter twigs provide a pop of color during the colder months. You can plant it along paths or driveways, or use it as a border plant. It also works well in containers, adding winter interest to patios or balconies. And since it grows well in both sun and partial shade, it can be used in various parts of the garden.
Kelsey’s Red Twig Dogwood is a hardy plant that requires minimal care during the winter. It’s cold resistant and its twigs stay colorful throughout the season. However, to ensure the best color and health of the plant, consider pruning in late winter. Remove some of the oldest branches to stimulate the growth of new, brightly-colored twigs. This will help maintain the vibrant red color and overall health of the plant.
Yes, Kelsey’s Red Twig Dogwood can be an effective plant for erosion control. Its dense, low-growing habit and ability to thrive in damp or wet soils make it a good choice for stabilizing soil in areas prone to erosion, such as slopes or stream banks. Its many vertical branches growing from ground level help to create a dense network of roots that can hold the soil in place.
Kelsey’s Red Twig Dogwood can be a great addition to a wildlife garden. In late spring, it may produce clusters of white flowers that can attract pollinators. By late summer, these flowers may develop into white berries that are attractive to birds. So, by planting Kelsey’s Red Twig Dogwood, you can provide food for a variety of wildlife and enjoy the added bonus of bird-watching right in your own backyard.
Kelsey’s Red Twig Dogwood is an excellent choice for a water garden or pond. Its ability to thrive in damp or wet soils makes it suitable for planting along the edges of a pond or stream. Its low-growing habit won’t obstruct views across the water, and its bright red winter twigs provide a striking contrast against the water, especially in winter. It can also be used to stabilize banks and prevent soil erosion.
Kelsey’s Red Twig Dogwood is a robust plant that is not often troubled by pests or diseases. Occasionally, it may be affected by leaf spots, but these are usually not a serious issue and don’t require specific treatment. Deer also tend to avoid this plant, making it a good choice for areas where deer browsing can be a problem.
Kelsey’s Red Twig Dogwood can be propagated by taking softwood cuttings in late spring or early summer. Choose a healthy, vigorous branch and cut a piece about 4-6 inches long. Remove the leaves from the lower half of the cutting and dip the cut end in rooting hormone. Then, plant the cutting in a pot filled with a mix of peat and perlite, ensuring the leafless portion is buried. Keep the cutting moist and in a shaded location until roots develop, then it can be transplanted to its permanent location.
While Kelsey’s Red Twig Dogwood is primarily an outdoor plant, it could potentially be grown indoors in a container if given the right conditions. It would need a location with plenty of light, ideally near a south-facing window. However, keep in mind that it is a deciduous shrub, meaning it will lose its leaves in the winter. Also, its vibrant red twigs, one of its main attractions, are best appreciated outdoors against the backdrop of a snowy landscape or dark earth.
Kelsey’s Red Twig Dogwood is not particularly picky about soil. It thrives in damp or wet soils, making it a good choice for areas of the garden that tend to stay moist. However, it also grows well in ordinary garden soils, as long as they are well-draining. It’s not suited for hot, dry sandy areas, but can handle ordinary summer dryness once well-established.