Winter splendour

The dogwood 'Anny's Winter Orange', whose stems turn a light yellow-orange in summer
The dogwood 'Anny's Winter Orange', whose stems turn a light yellow-orange in summer
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To prune or not to prune? That’s the question right now – do you want a plant for its flowers or for the brilliant, blazing colour of its stems?

Well, with dogwoods such as Cornus alba, the vast majority of gardeners plump for the second option because they consider it is worth losing the blooms when compared to the stunning colour that’s produced in winter on those bare stems.

C alba ‘Elegantissima’, for instance, has pale green and white variegated foliage, which, in itself, is highly attractive, but come late autumn, when those leaves have fallen, and the true beauty of the plant is revealed. Like its close relative, C alba ‘Spatheii’, its stems are an in-your-eye red.

And for an even bigger blaze of colour, there’s ‘Westonbirt’, considered by some to be the boldest and the best for lighting up a drab winter’s day.

If crimson isn’t the king of your colours, plant C stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’ whose foliage turns yellow before falling in autumn to reveal yellow stems.

And for something eye-shockingly brilliant, there’s the variety I have just bought, Cornus sanguinea ‘Anny’s Winter Orange’, with its orange-red bark in winter through to spring, and whose stems turn a light yellowy-orange in summer, contrasting with the bright green ovate leaves.

The shrub has warm apricot-coloured leaves in winter and can grow up to almost eight feet high, but to enjoy winter coloured stems it’s best hard pruned in spring. It may seem harsh, but it will be worth every cut.

To make the most of your dogwoods for winter splendour, you have to sacrifice the blooms which appear on two-year-old wood. The key to encouraging those blazing stems is to hard prune every spring. Farewell flowers, hello a multitude of colourful canes.

The same treatment can be meted out to Cornus alba ‘Aurea’, a vigorous deciduous shrub with golden-yellow leaves in spring and summer, which become deep yellow in autumn.

The young stems are bright red and look stunning in winter sunlight. It grows best in damp areas, and the best leaf and stem colour are obtained in full sun, although it will also grow in partial shade.

So, the decision is yours – do you or don’t you cut and trust that your actions will be well rewarded? Me? I am heading outdoors, secateurs in hand...