Dogwoods to brighten up the winter garden

Shortening long shoots on apple tree (S)
Shortening long shoots on apple tree (S)

Winter stem colour and tips on winter pruning of apple and pear treeswith Martin Fish - garden writer, broadcaster and advisor.

So far this winter the weather has been on the mild side and many plants that should be dormant are still actively growing.

However, by the law of averages the weather has got to change at some point and I’m sure we will get a spell of very cold, winter weather.

When and if this happens plants that are flowering early in the garden will suddenly stop, but for other garden plants the cold weather won’t affect them at all!

One such group of plants are the dogwood or cornus and regardless of the weather they will continue to provide a colourful display through the winter and into spring.

The dogwoods grown for their attractive colourful stems in winter are very tough and will grow in just about any soil type, although for optimum growth they prefer a moisture retaining soil.

In fact they are an ideal plant for a permanently damp spot in the garden and they will even tolerate standing in water for several weeks at a time.

They come in a range of stem colours and when planted together in groups they look stunning, especially on a bright winter’s day when the sun shines on their upright branches.

For a bright red stem, Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ takes some beating and this contrasts very well with the yellow stems of Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’.

If you are looking for dark stems to plant again a light background Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’ is perfect with its blackish purple shoots and one of the most popular dogwoods at the moment is Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Beauty’ with its red, orange and yellow stems.

Care and maintenance of dogwoods grown for their stems is very simple indeed.

At this time of the year they should be enjoyed but around the middle to end of March the stems need to be pruned back to almost ground level.

It sounds a little harsh, but this hard pruning stimulates strong new growth over spring and summer with the results of even more colourful stems to enjoy next winter.

I’ve already got several dogwoods in my garden, but the plan is to plant more to create an even better display in future years.

Apple pruning

During the dormant season apple trees can be given a winter prune. Ideally in order to help maintain a good shaped tree and a balance of new and old wood, a little pruning should be done every year. The secret really is to prune little and often so that some old wood is cut out to be replaced with new shoots. At this time of the year fruit tree pruning should be limited to apples and pears only. Plums, damsons and cherries should never be pruned in the winter. With those you need to prune in late spring or summer. The aim when pruning apples is to thin out an overcrowded canopy and to remove any weak and crossing branches, which may mean only removing two or three branches per year. Long shoots made last summer can also be shortened by half or two-thirds to encourage flower buds to develop lower down and of course to prevent the tree from growing too tall.