Is Cardinal Dogwood Top Dog?

Cardinal Dogwood Winter Color
Cardinal Dogwood Winter Color

Cardinal Dogwood, Cornus sericea ‘Cardinal’, Zone 2-8
8-10’ H x 6-8’ W

It’s always hard to narrow down which plants are my favorites. But I do think Cardinal Dogwood is my top dog!

It is one of the first plants I learned about in college when I began taking courses in woody plant identification. A nice Cardinal Dogwood was growing next to the horticulture building. I wonder if it is still thriving.

The Cardinal was also the mascot at my high school 😊.

Cardinal is a great name for this shrub as it represents the coloring of the twigs in the fall through the winter. Fall and winter, because in contrast, the early new spring growth has an olive green twig color.

My favorite reason for growing dogwood is for the winter interest they provide. The coloring of the twigs provides such a beautiful contrast against the white snow and what is otherwise a dreary brown scene.

The most colorful stems will be on fresh new growth. The video here shows the process of rejuvenating a large Cardinal Dogwood. Rejuvenating is a “hard” pruning and should only be done when the plant is dormant. I prefer late winter in March and April for my area, northern Great Plains, Zone 4.

You must be patient in the spring for the new growth to emerge. It may be late June into July before the new growth takes off. After about 3-5 years, I will repeat the process. Dogwoods can build up dead wood quickly, and the coloration begins to fade on older stems.

On the last rejuvenation cycle of this Cardinal, I left the stems about 2 feet high. Leaving some rigid stems will support new stems, which can be weak due to the fast-growing nature of dogwood. The old stems will also provide growth from latent buds. But since many of those 2-foot stems were also dead growth, it was time to cut them back to the ground this cycle.

With rejuvenation, your best results will always be best when the plant is well-established and healthy. For additional reading on rejuvenation, I wrote a guest post on the subject here.

There are many other great dogwoods to grow that offer different stem colors and different sizes. Cardinal is the largest variety I know, reaching 8-10 feet.

All dogwoods have these characteristics in common:

  • Adaptable to wet, boggy soils
  • They prefer full sun for the best stem coloration but are excellent for partial shade.
  • Pruned stems look great in seasonal containers for accents
  • White flowers in spring
  • Showy fruit and good fall colors

Cardinal then is an adaptable and hardy shrub offering four seasons of interest. This top dog has it all! 

Thanks for stopping by Garden Hike!


Garden Hike is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on this site, we may earn a small commission at no additional charge to you. Thank you. Click A.M.Leonard’s banner below to check out their great selection of tools and supplies.

A.M. Leonard Main Banner