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Dogwood willows: colourful gardens

red dogwood

Looking to spruce up a slightly dull-looking garden? The vibrant hues of Dogwood willows could be the solution. Dogwoods are lovely shrubs that shine in low light and look spectacular when artificially lit in the evening. We've put together a little guide on Dogwood planting design, companions, pruning and propagation...

 

The history

Dogwood, or Dogwood willow, is the common name for the Cornus family. Cornus, or dogwood, is derived from the word for an animal’s horn - the very hard nature of the wood was useful in making ploughshares. 

The shrub is found growing in swampy and boggy conditions throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Getting a soggy patch of land to look good with minimal maintenance can be hard, so these shrubs provide a simple solution. If the ground can be drained, then you can include a greater variety of plants as well - but the great thing about dogwood willow is that it offers a way to work with the land and its natural situation, rather than having to work against it.

dogwood willow spring
 

Planting design

The stems of these shrubs are the major reason for growing them: they look wonderful in winter and low light and will particularly benefit from planting where they will catch sunlight in the daytime or be illuminated by artificial light at night. Planting against a dark background with birch trees can give a great added depth to the composition. And when summer comes, they produce leaves that are often variegated and coloured, so they go on working for the garden throughout the year.

Dogwoods need to be grouped in clear and bold swathes. First, decide on the effect you want to create; are you looking for a single orange and red background or for a mixture of stems that look different and change in combination as you walk past them? Using paler coloured stems in the distance and darker coloured stems in the foreground gives a sense of distance and perspective to the plants. You can create strong blocks of colour by planting groups of at least three plants of one variety together.

dogwood and birch

 

Companion planting

A deciduous planting of dogwood needs a solid underpinning of evergreen plants. Choose these from a selection of Choisya, Sarcococca, Bergenia, Euonymus, Vinca and Wintergreen ferns. Colours to choose from include:
 

Carmine stems - reds

  • Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ - red stems
  • Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ - Coral Red (a famous introduction from Westonbirt)
  • Cornus alba 'Spaethii' - Bright red
  • Cornus alba 'Aurea’ - Bright red stems and yellow leaves
  • Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ - Orange to blood red
  • Salix alba subsp. vitellina ‘Britzensis’ - Orange red

 

Dark colours - purple

  • Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’ - Dark black purple
  • Salix daphnoides - Dusky violet
  • Salix phylicifolia - Brownish purple
     

Lighter colours - Green / Yellow

  • Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’ - Light green yellow
  • Salix rehderiana - Rich olive green
  • Salix x rubens ‘Eugenei’ - Pale green
  • Salix alba subsp. vitellina - Golden yellow
  • Salix x ehrhartiana - Pale buff

 

Pruning Dogwood

The youngest shoots are the most brightly coloured, so the plants need to be coppiced annually. They should be cut back hard to near ground level in early spring (before bud break) to encourage lots of vigorous young shoots. Be tough on the plants and do not wait to cut them later in the season after they have started to bud. It may seem cruel to do so but they will suffer in the long term by becoming weakened if they aren't cut back earlier.

Shorten the stems on Cornus plants to a stump five to seven centimetres of the ground level and Salix to 15 centimetres. Remember to cut the whole lot right back and feed them heavily with good compost or manure mulch and an all purpose slow release fertiliser.

yellow dogwood
 

Propagation

Multiplying your stock is very easy and as simple as sticking some twigs into the ground in autumn. Cut long pieces of year old stems to 30 centimetres and stick them two thirds of their length into the ground where you want them to grow. They will flourish and grow where they are planted.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


 

 

 

Images: Shutterstock

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