An unusual month to look at these colourful winter plants but the pruning is very important if we are to retain their coloured stems every year. I visit many gardens where they have never been pruned and they can really look dreadful. Any visitors to Wisley in recent months will have observed the fiery spectacle around the lake compiled completely of coloured stems.
The Pruning Dilemma….
Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ is a wonderful bright red, ‘Stolonifera’ is yellow and Cornus sanguinea “Midwinter Fire’ is ablaze with orange and yellow stems throughout the winter months. They are truly stunning plants but can look a bit boring in the Summer and truly dreadful if left untouched. The stem colour comes from the young growth so they need regular pruning.
So how do we deal with them?
Do not prune at all? This is not an option and whilst ‘Midwinter Fire’ can be left a couple of years between prunings they need annual attention.
Trim like a hedge? No, no, no!! This is how the local authorities often prune and it only really works on the wild dogwood in a native hedge and not in a formal flower bed.
Prune half the stems to the ground? This is a good idea if you want to retain some height in the early part of the year and those that are left can be pruned next year. It’s quite a good compromise.
Prune down to the ground? This is the preferred method and you will see this done in my garden and at Wisley too. Cut the branches near to the ground and you will be rewarded with lots of young growth and subsequently gorgeous colour next Winter. This should be done every year in March just as the buds start to grow.
Old Plants and New
If you are looking at a really old plant as you read this, don’t be tempted to just cut everything off. If it hasn’t ever been pruned you may shock it and it could die. Either remove and replant or follow option 3 to encourage new growth.
New plants should be allowed to establish for a year or two before pruning so don’t cut them right to the ground in the first year. They need to establish a good root system first.
Dogwoods can be propagated by hardwood cuttings in the winter as all my students will testify.
My prunings will be used as pea supports and cut up for kindling bundles used to light the woodburner next year. Nothing gets wasted!
Cornus is a diverse Genus
The dogwoods are only one type of Cornus. At Squire’s in Milford you will see the National collection of Cornus kousa, the flowering dogwoods. They are at their most magnificent in May. These are trees and are only pruned for shape if necessary.
Cornus mas is an interesting specimen with yellow fluffy flowers that come out in early Spring
Cornus canandensis is a little beauty and can be seen clothing the ground in a woodland setting, it has the same flowers as it’s larger cousins but is a ground cover. Well worth looking out for.
Cathie’s Mobile Gardening School and Cathie’s Garden Army
If you would like some advice in your own garden we are here to help! The mobile gardening school is now up and running teaching people in their own gardens, gardening clubs, professional businesses and gardeners already employed perhaps needing a little extra help and guidance or just a refresher. Feedback says that the reward is huge to be able to learn the names of all the plants in your own garden and how to look after them. A consultancy with Cathie may be just the help you need to get started this year and can be given as a gift too. If you are a regular client you will know how important it is to book your pruning slots well in advance!
The long established garden army team have been busy pruning and clearing all winter and are now taking bookings for garden makeovers and tidy ups in 2016/17, followed by regular maintenance visits. All fully qualified and insured.