Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Dogwood Hydra

You have heard of the Hydra, haven't you? When you cut off its head, two more grow. The shrub Dogwood (Cornus) is like that. If you leave it to grow naturally it produces tall whippy branches that grow more or less straight:

Normal practice (in a domestic garden, that is) is to prune the branches quite close to ground level. Dogwood twigs are produced on the stem in opposing pairs, so if you cut just above a pair of buds, two more branches will grow - like this:

 So after a few seasons you can get lots of stems from each plant.

In retrospect I think I should have cut those branches shorter - maybe six inches or so above ground level.

In one corner of my garden I have adopted a different pruning strategy for a clump of Dogwoods. I have cut them at about 4 feet above ground level. They are therefore slim down below, with twiggy tops - almost like a "standard" shape:

The green leaves belong to a Clematis plant which has become entangled with the Dogwoods
I have kept the upward-pointing twigs, and removed most of the downward- or sideways-pointing ones.

What this means is that the plants growing at the base of these shrubs (currently Euphorbia and Primroses) get a decent amount of light, whilst I still get a host of brightly-coloured Dogwood stems.

Euphorbia at the feet of the Dogwood plants

Best practice suggests that you should prune your Dogwoods very severely in order to keep them vigorous, which in turn tends to produce stems with brighter colours. I usually trim mine quite gently each Spring to keep them from getting too big, and then give them a severe chop every 3 years or so. It seems to work for me.


  1. And the new growth has more vibrant red colour. This is one of my favourite bushes.

  2. I wish I had room for some dogwoods, they provide some fabulous colour in winter. The bright red ones are my favourites.

  3. It's always best to choose a strategy that suits you rather than one than one from the books isn't it?

  4. Interesting post Mark, we have both the green and red types, grown both for the birds to eat the berries and to harvest for basket making, I shall try pruning your way to get long straight stems for the baskets.

  5. We have some dogwoods as well, but they don't have the brightly coloured stems - I'm thinking a red twig dogwood will be at the top of my list to replace that huge cedar by the shed.


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