January Plant of the Month: Red Osier Dogwood

Updated: Jan 30, 2020

This month’s plant of the month is the Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea syn. Cornus stolonifera). January can be dreary and rainy here in the Pacific Northwest. The garden is often a sea of green and brown and not much else. That’s why we chose the Red Osier Dogwood as our plant of the month. It has bright red branches in winter that light up a flower bed in winter. Seen here before planting, the slender branches have a deep red color from base all the way to the top. 

In addition to being a knockout in winter, this multi-stemmed shrub has interest in multiple seasons. In spring, green foliage is covered with flat-topped clusters of white flowers. Late summer to fall brings large amounts of berries, either blue or white, appear. In fall, the leaves turn brilliant shades of light to deep red. Birds love the branches because they grow fairly close together and upright so they create great cover for them to dive into to avoid predators. 

Besides being attractive year round, this plant is native to the Pacific Northwest. For anyone wanting to plant more native species in their yards, or if you are a resident of Portland who is participating in the Portland Audubon Backyard Habitat Certification Program, this shrub is a fantastic addition to an urban or suburban landscape. It can tolerate wet locations so would be a good fit in boggy areas, a rain garden, or in parts of a garden that are regularly wetter than other areas of your yard. 

This Dogwood would be a wonderful screening plant, as it can top out at around fifteen feet tall and almost as wide. This can make it a tough sell in small urban landscapes though. There are, however, several smaller cultivars readily available at retail nurseries. There is a cultivar called ‘Flaviramea’ that has yellow twigs instead of red, and it gets only about 5-8 feet tall, and about 3-5 feet wide. If you’re looking for a true dwarf size, the ‘Kelseyi’ cultivar has red twigs and only gets 2 feet tall and 2 feet wide. A perfect size for urban yards. This is the cultivar I have in my yard. I just purchased them a couple of weeks ago so I haven’t seen them in any season but winter but they’ve already earned their keep by adding some much needed pop of color to my winter flower beds. 

If you are looking for a native shrub that is a delight in foliage, flower, and fruit, look no further than the Red Osier Dogwood. You’ll be so glad you found a spot in your yard for it, especially in winter!

Happy Gardening!