Cornus offer plenty of interest from spring to autumn, with varieties falling into two distinct groups. The Dogwood trees are renowned for their distinctive pretty flower bracts and large ornamental berries, whilst Dogwood shrubs are loved for their vivid coloured stems that really come into their own in winter.
Flowering Dogwood trees (Cornus florida and Cornus kousa) have large flower bracts in late spring to early summer that come in shades of white to rich pink. They are distinctive, with four petal-like bracts around the central flowers. For white flowers, chinensis and 'China Girl' are particularly popular. For pink flowers, 'Miss Satomi', 'Cherokee Sunset' and florida rubra are great choices.
The leaves are typically teardrop shaped with visible veins and some feature beautiful variegated patterns. For variegated foliage, take a look at 'Variegata', 'Cherokee Daybreak' and 'Rainbow'. The spring and summer features are followed by large, fascinating ornamental fruits (known as drupes) and attractive autumnal foliage. The berries are edible, but they don't taste great!
With their changing seasonal features, bushy form and modest size, Flowering Dogwood trees are well suited to small and large gardens alike. They are easy to look after, but prefer neutral to acidic soil and being positioned with morning sun followed by some afternoon shade. Make sure to generously water young trees, especially in times of drought. Less frequent, generous watering is better than more frequent light watering, as the water is more likely to reach the roots and provide the moisture they require.
Dogwood shrubs (Cornus sanguinea, Cornus alba and Cornus sericea), on the other hand, display vivid coloured stems that really come into their own in winter when the leaves have fallen. Stems range in colour from crimson red through to dark purple and lime green, making a striking winter feature. For a dramatic multi-hued variety, look at 'Midwinter Fire'. The attractive foliage of these varieties has beautiful autumn colours. Whilst flowers and berries are less prominent, they add extra seasonal interest.
The size of Dogwood shrubs makes them suitable for small gardens, but they are equally good for adding winter interest to borders in larger gardens. They are easy to grow and cope admirably in damp conditions. To promote new stems with the brightest winter colours, simply hard prune back each year around March to mid-April.