Rejuvenating Red Twig Dogwoods: How To Prune Dogwoods

Man Pruning Dogwood Shrubs
(Image credit: tinabelle)

Red twig dogwood is one of the more ornamental shrubs in the garden in winter. That’s not because of any winter-blooming flowers that decorate the bare winter branches. Rather, the “pop” of red twig dogwood is found in the color of the shrub’s branches, a stand-out red when everything else is brown.

Pruning a red twig dogwood can help keep those branches red. If you are wondering how to prune red twig dogwood trees, just keep reading!

Keeping Red Twig Dogwood Small

Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) is a wonderful shrub. It grows fast and provides interest in the garden all year. The sharp-tipped leaves are deep green in summer but turn purple red in autumn. Small white flowers appear in early summer and the smooth, deep red branches make the shrub eye-catching in a winter landscape.

While red twig dogwoods rarely grow above 8 feet (2.4 m.) tall, they do tend to get just as wide as they are high. Keeping red twig dogwood small requires occasional pruning. Taking off older branches and branch tips allows new young wood to grow in. It grows in bright red, replacing older brownish wood.

When Can I Cut Back Red Twig Dogwood?

What’s the best timing for pruning a red twig dogwood? Generally, the optimal time to prune a deciduous shrub is determined by when it blooms. That’s to make sure you don’t cut off all of next year’s buds. 

But bushes that are grown for their bright bark do not have these concerns. It’s best to prune them in late winter or early spring. They are still dormant at the time but warmer weather and new growth is just around the corner.

Rejuvenation Pruning Red Twig Dogwood

Red twig dogwood grows rapidly, and it’s hard to get away without occasional pruning. In fact, many gardeners cut the shrubs back to the ground every three years or so to keep the bushes vibrant and the stems bright red. This is called rejuvenation pruning. It has the advantage of eliminating all the old branches that have lost their bright red color. 

An alternative way of rejuvenation pruning red twig dogwood is to prune out the largest branches every year or two, no more than a third of the stems. Cut them off at ground level. Taking out the big branches will give more room to younger, more vigorous branches. This approach has the advantage of leaving the shrub the same height year after year. 

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.