Pruning Cornus or Dogwood tree – 【How and when to prune】


Cornus (commonly known as Dogwood) is a genus that encompasses both deciduous trees and shrubs, the group reaching between 30 and 60 species. They can reach between three and four meters in height and with exuberant foliage. In addition, all produce as a fruit a fleshy drupe, which in some species is edible, and in others becomes toxic for consumption. They are bushes that are widely used in gardening, so in this article we will see everything about pruning Cornus or Dogwood (including the popular dogwood red twig), how and when to do it, what tools to use and more.


Curiosity: Surely you know that the most popular name by which these trees and shrubs are known is dogwood, but do you know what the name is for? name? to? It is derived from “dagwood”, this because it has very fine and hard branches, with which daggers were previously made. Many other uses were also given to its very good wood, such as loom shuttles, handles for all kinds of tools, and although it is not a wood of widespread commercial use, it can also be used to make windows or doors for homes.

1. Best-known varieties of Cornus or Dogwood


Among the cornus varieties there are quite different from each other, to reflect it, I will leave you here five of the most recognized varieties.

1.1 Red twig Dogwood

Without a doubt, this is one of the most popular dogwood bushes, if you plant it in your garden you will have a shrub that grows between 6 and 9 feet, and that is very resistant to cold climates and droughts.

Red Twig Dogwoods
Red Twig Dogwoods

They are highly sought after because they offer beautiful white flowers in spring, and during the winter, far from losing their beauty, it shows its bare stems in a striking red color, which contrasts very well with any landscape.

1.2 Flowering Dogwoods

It is a deciduous tree that can reach 33 feet in height with a development in width as much or more than in height, reaching 30 feet.

They produce beautiful flowers with four petals that can be white, pink, or red. Flowering generally occurs between April and May.

1.3 Yellow twig Dogwoods

The yellow dogwood is a deciduous shrub that grows about 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide. It has resistance to a wide variety of climates, including intense droughts.

The most distinctive features are its deep green foliage, which turns reddish in the fall, and especially the color of its branches in winter, which change from green to bright yellow.

1.4 Common Dogwood

The common dogwood is a deciduous shrub that develops between 7 and 20 feet, its branches are greenish brown and green, oval-shaped leaves.

Although it prefers heat and sunny places, it can develop in shade or semi-open. In nature it is very found in mountain areas.

1.5 Canadian Bunchberry

Unlike the four varieties we have just seen, Cornus canadensis is a creeping plant that does not reach a foot in height. It is a sub shrub characterized by its slow growth, with white flowers that arrive in mid-summer.

2. List of tools for pruning Cornus or Dogwood


As varied are the different dogwoods as the number of tools you can select to perform the pruning. Select the appropriate one according to the size of the plant, its age and the type of pruning it will perform.

  • Hand Pruning Shears: Stems up to half inch in diameter can be pruned with hand shears.
  • Lopping Shears: It is suitable to use on stems between half inch and 2 inches in diameter.
  • Hedge Shears: Manual and power shears are available for trimming hedges. Manual shears have long, flat blades with relatively short handles and are good for small jobs. Electric shears are a good choice for larger hedges.
  • Saws: A number of pruning saws are available. These saws come with either curved or straight blades and of variable lengths and points. Curved blades that cut on the draw stroke are easy to use.

Never forget the importance of disinfecting your tools before and after work. This will prevent the spread of disease from plant to plant, aiding the overall health of the garden.

3. How to prune Dogwood / Cornus


To carry out an analysis of how to prune a cornus or dogwood, and taking into account the great variation from one type to another, we will divide this section into shrubs and trees.

3.1 Cornus shrub pruning

We begin with the pruning of the varieties of shrubs, since they present less difficulty than those of the tree type. It will be a task that you can easily perform with any hand scissors.

Basically, you must differentiate two ways to carry out this pruning:

  • Cut year after year a third of all the branches within a couple of centimeters of the ground, leaving the rest of the branches uncut. With this pruning method we ensure a good flowering, but at the same time all the branches that we do not cut will acquire a much less intense coloration than the new shoots.
  • In the previous method, we prioritize flowering over the coloring of new stems, in this method it will be the other way around. All branches should be cut a few centimeters above ground level (as shown in the photo). In this way, the flowering is renounced, but we make sure to have new branches of intense color the following winter.

Personally, I prefer the second method, and that is that for flowering plants there are hundreds of options, but if you are going to have a dogwood in your garden, you should enjoy its colorful stems in winter.

3.2 Dogwood tree pruning

Let’s see now what you should consider when pruning your cornus tree, you will see that it is not so complex. 😉

The tasks that should not be missing in the pruning of these plants are the following:

  • You should start by cutting all the wood that is dry. It correctly analyzes all the foliage to detect all that wood that is dry or in the process of drying. It is important that you eliminate it because from here they are points where the fungi begin to grow, which can end up spreading to other parts of the plant.
  • Just as or more important than cutting the dry branches of your dogwood is removing those that are sick or infected with a pest. The sooner you cut these types of branches, the less time the tree will be at risk of having a major disease or infection.
  • Eliminate all those branches that are too old and do not have the strength to develop properly.
  • If you observe areas where the foliage is too dense, you can perform selective pruning to decrease this density.
  • There are many varieties of dogwood that are grafted, in this case you must be careful to cut all the shoots that are born under the graft.
  • Finally, the beginning of summer is a good time to prune and stimulate flowering. The idea with this pruning is to do a small pruning on the tips of the buttons to redirect the energy to the flower buds. You can do this with scissors or pinch the tip of the bud with your hands.

Up to this point, we have seen everything related to the pruning method, let us now see the appropriate moment in which it should be carried out.

4. Pruning Overgrown Dogwood Tree


When a dogwood tree grows too large, pruning is necessary to rejuvenate the tree and promote its vitality. In this section, we’ll explore the importance of pruning overgrown dogwood trees and provide some practical tips to guide you through the process.

4.1 Tips for Pruning Overgrown Dogwood Trees

The first thing is to prune at the right time. In these cases, the ideal is to do it in winter or early spring, before the start of new growth. This minimizes stress on the tree and allows it to heal more effectively.

You should start by evaluating the plant, looking for dead, diseased or damaged branches. These should be the first branches you should cut. You can then perform a thinning of congested areas within the tree canopy. Try to remove branches that cross or rub against each other. Look to create an open, well-spaced structure that allows light and air to penetrate.

You should also aim to reduce its overall size through selective pruning. Trim long, very long branches back to a healthy lateral bud or branch junction, taking care not to remove more than a third of the total growth on the tree.

5. Topping a Dogwood Tree


Topping, also known as heading or pollarding, is a controversial pruning technique that involves removing a significant portion of the upper branches and main leader of a tree, often resulting in a flat-topped or stubby appearance.

While topping may be used in some tree species for specific reasons, it is generally not recommended for dogwood trees (Cornus spp.). In this section, we will explore why topping is not suitable for dogwood trees.

5.1 Why Topping is Not Suitable for Dogwood Trees

  • Structural Weakness: Dogwood trees have a naturally graceful and delicate branching structure. Topping disrupts this natural form and weakens the tree’s overall structure. Dogwoods are prone to developing narrow, V-shaped crotches, and topping exacerbates this issue, making branches more prone to splitting and breakage.
  • Disease and Infection: Topping creates large, open wounds on the tree, leaving it vulnerable to diseases, pests, and decay. Dogwood trees are particularly susceptible to fungal infections, such as dogwood anthracnose (Discula destructiva), which can enter the tree through the wounds created by topping.
  • Regrowth Issues: When a dogwood tree is topped, it responds by rapidly producing numerous upright shoots from the remaining branches and the cut ends. This excessive regrowth leads to a crowded and congested canopy, limiting air circulation and increasing the risk of diseases and pests. Additionally, the new shoots are weakly attached and prone to breakage.

4. When to prune Dogwood / Cornus


Defining the right time to prune your dogwood will depend on factors such as pruning type and variety. In general we can distinguish the following:

  • In cornus trees, pruning of green branches should be carried out at times when the development of the plant is latent (autumn / winter). If it is about cutting dry and diseased branches, it is not necessary to wait a specific period, you can cut them whenever you want and, in case of illness, the sooner the better. Finally, pruning to promote flowering should be done in early summer.
  • In the case of dogwood bushes, pruning should be done in late winter, before the plant begins to shoot the first shoots. Although in case of pruning dry and diseased branches, as with trees, you can do it whenever you want.

These are generalities, since the exact moment can vary from one area to another, the experience of the gardener is often useful in specific cases.

5. Pruning cornus / Red twig Dogwood video


As with every article in this blog, we like to end it with a video, from which you can see graphically all or part of what has been explained so far. For this occasion, we have taken a very good video from the Get Growing with Gary Heilig channel, I have no doubt that it will be very useful to see it. 😉

You may also be interested in knowing about pruning:

Well, we have tried to cover everything related to pruning the cornus or commonly known as dogwood, I hope you have found the information you were looking for.

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