Cornus or Dogwoods are fantastic plants in winter gardens and are great for adding colour with their brightly coloured stems. There are different types of Cornus but the ones grown for their spectacular stem effect are usually cultivars of C. alba, C. stolonifera and C. sanguinea. They are available in a wide range of colours from citrus yellow, lime, orange and fiery red to really dark, almost black stems.

They were previously a favourite with council planting schemes and are often seen in public areas. One of the main reasons for this is because of their resistance to damage and social wear and tear. Now Dogwoods have revamped their image and are in favour with garden designers. Many varieties have attractive foliage and have good autumn colour which make them terrific value for money.

They like moist soil conditions and are often seen growing around the margins of ponds. They like an open sunny position and although they will grow in partial shade, the red varieties in particular need good light to be seen at their best. Plant them against a contrasting backdrop such as an evergreen hedge, and in groups of mixed varieties for an eye catching winter display. They can also look good under planted with Snowdrops and other early spring bulbs. It is a good idea to position them somewhere that can be seen from the house if possible so you can admire them from the warmth and comfort of your home.

To ensure vibrant winter stems, most Cornus need to be cut down to a few inches from the ground in March or just as they are starting to break into leaf. The reason for this is to encourage as much new growth as possible and the new stems will have more brightly coloured bark than if the old stems are left. This hard pruning will also improve Cornus with attractive foliage, enhancing their foliage colour and effect.

C. alba 'Aurea' has vigorously growing red stems and yellow leaves and contrasts well with C. stolonifera 'Flaviramea' which has vivid green stems when grown in full sun. C. stolonifera 'White Gold' has excellent white edged variegated foliage and makes a good dual season plant. C. alba 'Kesselringii' has dark, almost black stems that are a great contrast with other coloured stemmed Cornus or with the white bark of Betula utilis var. jacquemontii.

If your soil is dry then you may be able to grow C. sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire'. This requires less drastic pruning and can be left alone completely, although the best winter stem colour occurs on the young stems. I like to remove about 25% of the older stems each year. This variety does have a suckering habit and is better grown in wilder parts of the garden. This can be grown successfully with Iris foetidissima with its evergreen leaves and orange berries.

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