Red Twig Dogwood Trees

The red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) is a species of Dogwood native throughout northern and western North America from Alaska east to Newfoundland, south to Durango and Nuevo León in the west, and Illinois and Virginia in the east. Other names include Red Willow, Kinnikinnick, Redstem Dogwood, Red-rood, American Dogwood, Creek Dogwood, and Western Dogwood.

Red Twig Dogwood are a popular ornamental shrub that is often planted for the red coloring of its twigs in the dormant season. Native Americans used the berries as food, both fresh, dried and cooked. Some Plateau Indian tribes ate the berries to treat colds and slow bleeding.

Seasonal information: Red twig dogwood shrubs provide year-round interest, but despite bearing spring blossoms, variegated leaves in summer, and berries from summer to fall, clearly this plant’s common name explains the main reason people grow it: namely, the bush’s red twigs, which are brightest in winter.

Location: Red twig dogwoods grow as shrubs in planting zones 3-8. Red twig dogwood bushes are considered good plants for wet areas, although some cultivators report that the red twig dogwoods perform better in well-drained soils. Work humus into the soil for nutrients. In terms of sunlight requirements, red twig dogwood shrubs will tolerate partial shade, but their signature red bark will be brightest if they are planted in full sun.

Planting instructions: Dig your planting hole at least four times the width of the root ball, and deeply enough so that the root ball is level with the surrounding area.
 Remove the plant from the container by gently tapping on the ground and easing the plant out of the container. If the red twig dogwood was purchased with burlap covering the root ball, cut at least half of the burlap off the root ball exposing the roots. Remove any twine or wire. Fill the planting hole with water and allow the soil to absorb. “Watering in” is an important step to ensure that water reaches the plant roots immediately and to help prevent shock. Place the shrub in the planting hole and backfill some of the original soil to secure the plant. Make sure the dogwood is straight. Backfill the remaining soil into the planting hole and gently tap down. Water deeply.

Watering: Create a mulch barrier around the tree’s trunk at planting. Keep the mulch five or six inches away from the trunk itself to help the tree retain water. Water the red twig dogwood thoroughly.

Monitor the tree until its roots have become well established. If the soil feels dry, water it deeply. Check the tree occasionally, once established. Although it can survive drought conditions, it prefers wet soil. Water deeply if the surrounding soil is extremely dry.

Fertilization: To maximize growth of this fast grower, fertilize the plant in late spring after flowering, and in late fall with an acid-loving tree and shrub fertilizer.

Weed Control: Spread mulch or other organic material over the entire planting area. At least two to three inches is required to help control weeds and maintain soil moisture.

Pests and Disease: It is also important to monitor your red twig dogwood for pests. Aphids feed on dogwoods by sucking sap. A number of scale insects are also potential pests of dogwood. These insects are immobile and appear as small bumps on leaves or stems. The dogwood club-gall midge adult is a tiny, yellow-orange fly that lays eggs in the plant’s terminal leaves, where the eggs hatch into larvae and enter the shoot. The dogwood borer is the larvae of a wasp-like moth (Synanthedon scitula). Dogwood sawfly (Macremphytus tarsatus), a particularly common pest of the red twig dogwood, feeds on dogwood leaves while passing through multiple in-stars, or larval stages.

Pruning: Care for this plant amounts mainly to pruning. For maximal color, prune out 1/3 of the older branches every three years or so. Such care will promote new growth; and since the younger branches bear the brightest color, that is precisely the growth that you want to encourage.

Pollination: Even though clusters of tiny white flowers appear on red twig dogwoods, that doesn’t guarantee berry production later in summer. Insects pollinate dogwood shrubs. Various bees, flies, wasps, butterflies and beetles visit the flowers transferring pollen onto pistils. Only pollinated flowers’ ovaries ripen into berries. Cool, rainy weather during flowering or insecticide application diminishes the number of potential pollinating insects.