Keeping the red twig color in Red Twig Dogwoods

How to keep red twigs red

By: Sandy Feather ©2015
Penn State Extension

Q. I planted a group of of red-twig dogwoods in my yard six or seven years ago. I thought their red winter stems would be attractive against an existing evergreen windbreak. They started out fine, but now they have outgrown their space and their stems are no longer as bright red. We have sheared them back to control their size, but they still are not very red. Do we need to lime the soil or fertilize them to get good red winter color back?

A. Cornus alba, C. sanguinea and C. sericea are the most common shrub-type dogwoods grown for their red winter stems. Fertility and pH are probably not as important as proper pruning in obtaining bright red stems. Although you do not specify which red-twig dogwoods you are growing, all of them exhibit better winter color on the newest growth.

red twig dogwoods

A good way to manage red twig dogwoods is to remove the oldest, thickest, least colorful stems at ground level every year. This will force new shoots to grow from the roots. The new growth will have the red color you desire. Pruning them this way, rather than shearing them back from the ends of the branches, will reduce the overall size of the plants significantly while maintaining the shrub’s natural growth habit.


red twig dogwood

Another option is to prune all of the stems within a few inches of the ground every two or three years. This will keep them in bounds and ensure good red stems color through the winter. Late February or early March is the best time to prune them.


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