How to... prune dogwood

Dogwoods (Cornus) with their wonderful red, orange or green stems are stunning in winter gardens, especially in the clear winter light or planted en masse or in groups of several different colours for contrast.  They also look good with bulbs such as snowdrops, crocus and Cyclamen coum.

The trick for getting the best colourful stems is to prune them.  If you don’t, a cornus shrub will just get bigger and bushier and lose its flaming bright stem colour and become more reddy brown.  However, they need to be left to establish for three to four years before you coppice for the first time.

Prune dogwood varieties such as ‘Sibirica’ in late February or March before or just after the plants come into leaf.  Using sharp secateurs, loppers, or a pruning saw, cut back to around 7-10cm from the ground to encourage the bright new stems to shoot straight up and form a compact bushy shape.  First take out the old wood, then cut the other stems back to just above the first two sets of emerging buds.  Also remove any crossing stems.

Follow with a generous mulch.  Expect a lot more green growth in the summer and fewer but more colourful stems come the winter.  Then cut back hard every other year for the colourful stems.