Bright Winter Stems

yellow twig dogwoodQuestion: I grow bloodtwig dogwood and love its bright red stems in winter. Are there other shrubs with bright winter stems?

Answer: Yes. Just while gardeners—those in the northern climes—are desperate for something green—certain shrubs fit that bill. And believe it or not, they’re deciduous, not evergreen. Like bloodtwig dogwood, these shrubs provide interest with their colorful stems. Perhaps you could call them deciduous evergreens.

One such shrub is also a shrubby dogwood, Cornus sericea. Like your bloodtwig dogwood (C. sanguinea), most cultivars of C. sericea have red stems, but look for ‘Flaviramea’ (shown), a selection with greenish yellow stems, and ‘Nitida’, one with darker green stems. Full sun, damp soil. Spreads by root suckers; remove these if you don’t want a colony to form. USDA Zones 2–8.

Kerria japonica provides a dense screen in winter with its bright green stems that grow straight up then arch over. Grow it in shade or sun and make sure it has good drainage. Zones 4–9.

On the above plants, young stems are usually the most colorful, so remove oldest stems every other year, in early spring, to encourage new growth.

Golden chain tree (Laburnum xwatereri) has green bark, but it’s a little more understated, in a dark shade of olive. It’s a nice tree in general, growing in an elegant vase shape and blooming in spring, with long clusters of yellow flowers. Full sun to light shade, moist soil. Zones 5–7.

Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) is a scrambling shrub that can be trained as a vine. It looks wonderful spilling over a gray stone wall in winter. Its slender stems are green, and as a bonus at winter’s end they pop with bright yellow flowers. Tolerates poor, dry soil. Flowers best in full sun but tolerates some shade. Zones 6–10. Winter jasmine may root wherever its branches touch the ground. It grows fast and can become weedy.

Trifoliate orange (Poncirus trifoliata) can succeed as far north as Zone 6, though it will produce fewer flowers and bitter-tasting fruit the farther north it grows. Regardless, this small citrus tree’s trunk, branches and thorns make a bright green splash in the winter landscape.

Image courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder

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3 thoughts on “Bright Winter Stems

  1. There are many more plants available for a winter stem palette. Here in zone 5 we also use the white stemmed raspberry (Rubus cockburnianus), black pussy willow (Salix melanostachys), golden willows (Salix alba) pruned yearly to keep it a shrub, and painted willow (Salix ‘Hakura nishiki’), also pruned to keep it in bounds. For something bigger we plant paperbark maple (Acer griseum), cherry (Prunus maackii), and birches. Combine these with broadleaf Euonymus cultivars and you have something better than a summer garden!

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