Harvesting Red Twig Dogwood Stems – When, Why, How and Where

1389054_582064128529072_962187904_nThe time is just about here if you are interested in foraging or harvesting your garden for the beautiful red twigs of Cornus sericea that are so often used to make wreaths, arrangements, and container decorations for the holidays.

A few years back, a few of my commercially purchased stems leafed out after a mild winter spent with their cut stems stuffed into the soil of a holiday container.  They had taken root and once I transplanted them to my garden they have since thrived (I subsequently have 5 large dogwood shrubs in my garden!).   Over the years since, I have learned a few tips for making most of these shrubs when it comes to harvesting their beautiful red stems.

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The leaves are just about to fall off the shrubs here in Central MA and as soon as they do, this will be the perfect time to cut the stems that you wish to use this year.  These stems will be fresh and pliable for use right away.

I received a pair of loppers in June from Troy-bilt that I have been trying out all season.   I recommend these or something similar for pruning for a few reasons:

  1. They have nice long handles, reducing your reach – and therefore reducing the likelihood of taking a stem to the eye…(been there, eye-patches, it turns out, aren’t as fun as pirates make them out to be).
  2. These particular pruners (Troy-bilt Comfort Classic Anvil Loppers) are taking the likes of my unique style of tool-toture.  That is that they arrived in June and have not seen the inside of a shed since.  They have been constantly left on the ground, in the garden, draped over a fence, or generally not put away where they are protected.  This photo was taken last week – and they still look and perform like new.
  3. Cutting with loppers is much easier (given that these are woody stems) than cutting with regular pruners.  The handles give you good leverage (for easier cutting) and the anvil blade gives you a cleaner cut on tougher material (better for the remaining plant) .

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I advise that you do not however prune back every stem at this time! I estimate it is best to take about 30% or so of the stems during this fall harvest.  Same goes for plants that you might find in the woods that you are cutting from – don’t take everything.  You don’t want to harm the plant’s ability to survive the winter.  If you are foraging, look for this shrub in wild areas where the soil is wet (river edges for example) and where the plant can get enough sun to keep the stems red (wild dogwood growing in the shade will likely have brown and less showy colored stems).

In the very early spring you can pollard (that is to cut pack all the of stems to the main root-stock coming out of the ground)  the entire plant.  This will force the shrub to put out many new stems that you can harvest next fall.

If you can’t find red-twig dogwood naturally for foraging or aren’t growing it in your garden there are often local sources particularly in the northern  part of the USA (including those where these images were sourced)

-Rochelle

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Top image from Local Color Flowers who services the Baltimore and Mid-atlantic region with all-local grown cut flowers and stems (including red-twig dogwood).  

Image by Rochelle Greayer

Holiday Container image by Garden Crossings who sells plants (including a variety of red-twig dogwoods) out of Zeeland, Michigan. 

The wreath image (bottom) is by Nick McCullough of Red Twig Farms in Central Ohio.  Contact them for a variety of branches used for winter container decorations. 

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Troy-bilt. I am not an employee of Proven Winners and all opinions are my own.

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About Rochelle Greayer

Hi, I'm Rochelle and for 18 years I have worked as a landscape designer, author/writer, and design teacher. I've designed residential and hospitality (for hotels, restaurants, and spas) gardens across the USA and in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. After many years of teaching garden design topics in person, I launched the PITH + VIGOR Boot Camp series in early 2018. Through my blog, social media, and online courses (Garden Design Bootcamp and Planting Design Boot Camp) I aim to help homeowners learn how to confidently design and create home gardens that reflect their own personal and unique style.

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