great shrub: cornus sanguinea ‘winter flame’

coral-cornus-winter-flameTHE BIRDS HAVE STRIPPED MOST EVERY JEWEL from the garden. I’m down to the crabapples on ‘Ralph Shay’ and ‘Bob White,’ which they seem to save for last, and the occasional holly berry. To add to the pain, a 55-degree thaw just erased the beautiful snow. At times like these, a gardener is grateful for any colorful twig she can get, and they don’t get much better than Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Flame,’ above, a fiery haze even viewed from a distance.

I noticed that my friend Bob Hyland at nearby Loomis Creek Nursery is counting his twiggy blessings, too, this week—with an ode on his website to Salix ‘Swizzlestick,’ a distinctive corkscrew willow he grows as a dramatic 60-foot hedge.

I’m making myself content with much less, but even a little ‘Winter Flame’ (hardy to Zone 4) warms the winter-weary soul. My young plant hasn’t reached full size of 8-10 feet, though at 4 feet it produces a show of yellow-, orange- and reddish-tinged stems that read as coral to my eye.

The Dutch breeder of ‘Winter Flame,’ Andre van Nijnatten, has also developed a smaller-stature version called Cornus ‘Arctic Sun’ that is earning high praise, with more twigs and a naturally compact habit (3-4 feet tall).  I’m thinking a grouping of them is in order. ‘Winter Flame’ has peachy-yellow fall color as well to recommend it, below, as does its newer cousin.

cornus winter flame 3
Maximum color on twig dogwoods comes from younger wood, so an every-other or every-third-year “stooling” (cutting the whole shrub down to about 6 inches) is the traditional pruning method. (Think of the dramatic large-scale arrangement you can make with those twigs!)

Other twiggy things to be grateful for here:

  • Cornus sericea ‘Silver and Gold’ (white-variegated foliage, yellow twigs)
    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Melanthia. Yes, certain dog activities (!) will stunt any plant, I expect. Nice to see you, and do visit again soon.

  1. Ted says:

    Who needs flowers! What a splash of sunshine. I put 3 tiny Arctic Suns in this fall. May next winter I’ll have a bit of a show.

  2. Kali says:

    My five ‘arctic fires’ are fiery red in the sun, but the mixture of colors on the ‘winter flame’ are gorgeous! I want!!

  3. Liz Douville says:

    Just discovered theRuth Stout Videos and cannot thank you enough for posting them. I followed her from the time she became well-known till she passed and have tried through the years to find the videos which at one time were advertised in gardening pubs. Always came up with not available. My greatest joy would be to find a source to purchase a DVD so I could continue to enjoy her delightful character. Thank you again!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Liz. I keep meaning to track down a source for the videos, too…I share your enthusiasm. I am happy to “meet” you and hope to hear from you again soon.

  4. bavaria says:

    My dogwoods get a 30% haircut every year–I cut one third of the large branches to the ground. That way, the whole bush doesn’t disappear and there is always some new, colorful growth.

  5. I just came across this blog and wanted to say hello and about how interesting I have found it. I have cornus midwinter fire in the garden but I discovered that it needs a good feed in the spring once alot of the older branches have been cut down as the best winter colour is on the new branches. Rosie

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Leavesnbloom. Nice to see you, and hear the tip about giving the stooled baby a little nourishment. Will do. Do stop in again and visit soon.

  6. Deirdre says:

    All I ever see on this coast is C. s. ‘Midwinter Fire’. I wonder what the difference is? Today, I fell for something called ‘Scarlet Curls’ Willow. It’s a curly willow with red and gold stems. I think I will keep mine coppiced. I’m not supposed to be buying plants, but I couldn’t resist. Perhaps I’ll tell hubby that it’s my Valentine’s present.

  7. Sarah Schwab says:

    Hi Margaret,

    The color of the Winter Flame is great; thank you for sharing! Just a quick question to you and your readers though: Does it still get leaf spot like most dogwoods?


    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Sarah. It is my understanding that C. sanguinea is less susceptible to disease than some of the other twig dogwoods (especially C. alba, and some C. sericea) but I do not have widespread first-hand experience with this particular cultivar yet.

      Also, I am in a cold zone; in steamier climates, I think these plants may have a tougher time and be more trouble-prone. I have tossed out some twig dogwoods that got stem canker or bad leaf spot and gradually found a group that suits my desired look but seem tough: C. sericea ‘Sunshine;’ C.s. ‘Silver and Gold,’ an unnamed red-stem one that just performed better than many for me, C.s. ‘Budd’s Yellow’ and this one so far are favorites. I think there is trial and error involved, and your climate and soil type will make a difference.

  8. Stacey says:

    I loved your posts about salix(es) and this beautiful cornus…winter interest is REALLY appreciated here, a little north of you in Cherry Valley. Can you suggest any sources for them?

    Love your blog, and I hope to make it across the river for a workshop this summer!

    1. Margaret says:

      @Stacey: Any local nursery should be able to get you any you want, though you may have to request. If you want one of everything to try various kinds, Forestfarm might be a place to start.

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