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How to Grow and Care for Dogwood (Cornus)

In the winter, these shrubs brighten up the garden with a fiery display of orange, red, or yellow stems. Early flowering bulbs look great underplanted on them. Plant in full sun, prune annually in spring, and ensure that the soil does not dry out for the most vibrant stem colour.

Cornus - dogwood
Cornus – dogwood

Quick Facts

  • Easy to grow
  • Looks best in the late winter and early spring
  • Can be planted all year round, ideally in autumn
  • For best results, plant in full sun
  • Keep soil moist

Before You Start

Choose a dogwood

Cornus, also known as dogwoods, are dependable shrubs that thrive in a variety of garden settings. However, they really do best in sunny or dappled shade in moist soil.

The majority of dogwoods will reach 1.2-1.5 m (4-5 ft) in height if they are pruned each spring for stem colour. Consequently, the most important consideration when selecting a dogwood is the distinct colour of the stems. These include black, vibrant flaming orange tones, vibrant yellow, and green. Pick something you really like. Additionally, it’s a good idea to select a few plants with two distinct colours so that they really stand out in the winter.


Dogwoods can be planted at any time of year. However, autumn planting is the easiest because the plants can establish their roots over the winter, require less water than summer planting, and provide beautiful winter stems for your enjoyment.

Dogwoods prefer moist soil. Plant them in a sunny location for the best stem colour. However, they will tolerate some shade. Dogwoods should be planted close together, 50-60 cm apart, to create a dense colour block for a winter display. In smaller gardens, try planting dogwoods in front of evergreen shrubs and climbers to make the stems stand out. A dry location will result in weak plants with poor stem colour.

Dogwoods can be allowed to grow to full size at the back of a border, but the older wood loses its colour as it matures. Cornus sanguinea is a UK native that can be an excellent addition to a wildlife area because it provides food for insects, birds, and mammals. Avoid planting in front of red brick walls because the red and orange stems will blend into the background. Avoid hard pruning in the spring because it removes the flowers. Dogwoods are tough and fully hardy, making them useful for chilly frost pockets.

Ongoing Care


If the soil feels dry about 15 centimetres below the surface, water the plants. Once they have established, they only require watering during prolonged periods of dry weather. Cornus are very good at wilting in the heat, but once the sun goes down in the evening, they will come back to life.


Applying a balanced feed in the spring on poor soil to encourage growth. Mulching your soil with well-rotted organic matter or composted bark can also help. Apply your fertiliser and a layer of mulch after pruning the stems down in the spring, but keep the mulch from getting too close to the base of the stems because this will result in rot. You will have easy access to the plants and the opportunity to eliminate the weeds at the beginning of the growing season thanks to this.

Caring for established plants

The dogwood’s main base’s low-growing stems can naturally lie on the ground and root. Over time, dogwoods can get tired and produce fewer shoots. Take cuttings and use them to make new ones or buy new ones to keep the winter cheer going.

Pruning and Training

Cut your dogwood back hard between the end of the winter and the middle of the spring for the best, brightest stems each winter.

Once the plants are established, cut back all of the shoots to a height of 5 to 7 centimetres from the ground in the late winter to the middle of spring. Using a small saw, remove any unwanted parts, including dead sections, from the stool after cutting back the shoots. This is a lovely pruning job to get involved in, but do watch your eyes with the long, thin stems.

A collection of stems will emerge from a stump over time. The base structure of your dogwood is this, which is known as a stool. The stubby stems of the stool can become clogged or damaged as the plant grows. Safety goggles are helpful for this task because not all dogwoods are strong enough to require annual pruning. You can always prune harder the following year, but you can’t put it back on!


Dogwoods don’t usually have problems, but they can get root diseases like Phytophthora root rot and honey fungus.


Can I keep a Dogwood (Cornus) in a pot?

“Yes, you can grow a dogwood shrub in a pot. But it is important to remember that if the plants are grown in pots, they thrive in a moist, well-drained compost that also allows for good flowering and autumn colour,” says Chris Bonnett, gardening expert for The Express.

Does the Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’ have stems that turn black in winter?

The Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’ is renowned for its striking red-purple stems that undergo a remarkable transformation in winter, turning an almost ebony black. These distinctive dark stems create a stunning visual contrast, particularly when planted alongside other varieties of Cornus with red or yellow stems.

In autumn, the dark green foliage of this plant undergoes a captivating change, transitioning to a rich, dark red colour, adding to its overall allure. As the plant matures, it produces white berries that stand out vividly against the deep-hued stems, earning this particular Cornus the common name of “white dogwood.

Buy Now

How to Grow and Care for Flowering Dogwood (Cornus)

These large trees and shrubs produce abundant, long-lasting displays of elegant white or pink-tinged spring blooms. They are easy to care for and take a long time to grow. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and can thrive in sun or shade…

Updated on September 29, 2023

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