Shrub of the Month: 'Cardinal' Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea)
Posted: April 10, 2012
Stems of Cornus sericea 'Cardinal' are in full display during winter months and add interest to the landscape.
Small, creamy white flowers borne in corymbs bloom in late spring, followed by fruits that ripen from green to white by late summer. Flowers and fruit stand out against the dark green summer foliage that turns purple in fall, adding to the oranges and reds that dominate the fall landscape. The fruits are an important food source for many species of birds, including eastern bluebirds, purple finches, scarlet tanagers, vireos, cedar waxwings and woodpeckers.
It is in winter that ‘Cardinal’ really shines, as the bright red twigs stand out against the winter sky. Growing six to eight feet tall, ‘Cardinal’ is very effective when grouped in large plantings, especially against an evergreen backdrop. Although not invasive or a rapid spreader, it will tend to sucker and form a multi-stemmed shrub. Shrubs with a suckering growth habit are valuable in holding soil that might erode otherwise. ‘Cardinal’ is not a picky plant – it tolerates moist soils as well as average garden soil and will grow well in full sun to partial shade.
It is a relatively maintenance-free plant except for one item: pruning. The intense red stem color only occurs on new wood and as it ages into the next year, the color fades. To ensure nice red stems every winter, maintain a yearly pruning schedule. The options are to either prune it to the ground every year (you will lose flowers in spring as they appear on last year's growth) or remove about 25% of the stems every year to encourage new growth that will have that bright red color and retain some yearly flowering characteristics.