Your shrubbery in winter

  • Cornus alba Sibirica - Dogwood - stems showing winter bark colors gardendata

For the Athol Daily News
Friday, February 09, 2018

Come spring, there are many flowering plants to choose from to make your landscape pop with color. But in the dead of winter, what can you depend on?

Chances are, birds have feasted on your bright red winterberries, leaving bare gray branches. Our evergreen shrubs are keeping up the good fight, but when you’re hungry for brighter colors, the offerings are slim.

This is the time of year when red twig dogwoods come into their own.

In the spring, they have flat clusters of small white flowers. In summer, they have small, sometimes variegated leaves (greenish-silver edged in white) and waxy whitish berries that don’t add much to the landscape. The berries’ main attraction, not incidental, is that birds enjoy eating them.

Their modest winter gift is superb. The bare crimson branches shine against a backdrop of glistening snow, or even a drab backdrop of winter-killed lawn grass.

Red twig dogwoods are not difficult to grow. They are hardy in USDA zones 3-8. They tolerate wet conditions, particularly the red osier species, which is often found in swampy areas. They prefer full sun, where their colors develop the most intensity, but they can take some shade. Their spreading root systems make them ideal for erosion control on slopes. They are not too picky about soil conditions, but they do best in acidic, humus-rich soil.

Since the bright winter color is most pronounced on young stems, pruning is necessary to keep the shrubs at their full glory. This is best done in early spring by cutting back about one-third of the thickest, oldest stems. Or, you can cut the whole plant down to about a foot once every three or four years.


Saturday and Sunday, Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston will offer a couple of informative presentations that inspire gardeners to get ready for the new season. On Saturday, 2 to 3 p.m., Joseph Bruso will talk about the diversity of foliage and flowers in the genus Rhododendron, and many of the species and hybrids. On Sunday, 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., Warren Leach, landscape horticulturist and award-winning garden designer, will discuss plants and planting combination to extend your garden enjoyment throughout the seasons. Both talks are free with admission.

Winter nature walk

It’s time to get out your snowshoes for a winter walk at the Quabbin. On Feb. 17, from 9 a.m. to noon, naturalist John Green will lead a walk in one of his favorite habitats for snowshoeing. He’ll take hikers off trail and down to the water looking for signs of all the animals and birds active through the winter. Bring your own snowshoes; there will be a few pairs to borrow if needed. Members: $15, nonmembers: $20. Directions provided with registration. Go to: hitchcockcenter.org to register. Snow date: Feb. 24

Crystals and snowflakes

The Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst offers science and nature programs for children and their families on the second Saturday of the month, from 10 to 11 a.m. On Saturday, the subject will be crystals and snowflakes. Free; groups of six or more should call ahead. Registration is appreciated: Hitchcockcenter.org

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