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Midwinter Fire Dogwood

Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' is a plant for all seasons, including winter.

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ is a plant for all seasons—mid-green leaves in spring and summer are supplanted by fiery shades of orange and yellow in autumn. Leaf drop slowly occurs, revealing a conflagration of branches that transport the warmth of the fireside into the winter garden. Yellow at the base of the stems ignites into a firestorm of coral and salmon culminating to orange-red at the tips. Stems retain their color for three months before the onset of spring extinguishes their fire.

Spark interest in the winter garden by siting this bloodtwig dogwood as a focal point visible from a dining- or living-room window. Its color stands out in front of dark green shrubs and finds complements in red rose hips or the red, yellow or orange berries of deciduous hollies. A hedge of ‘Midwinter Fire’ backlit by the sun warms up any winter day, conjuring a spectacular sunset. Partnered with Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Flamingo’, Perovskia ‘Little Spire’ and Agastache rupestris, ‘Midwinter Fire’ fans the fires of seasonal change.

In my garden, C. sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ is a small 12-foot tree with a rounded canopy, rather than a multistemmed shrub. Instead of cutting it back each spring I thin it to reduce suckers and prune to shape. The winter color is somewhat diminished by this regimen but still vivid. Underplantings of hellebores, snowdrops, spring starflower, cardamine, hosta, acanthus and euphorbia light this partly shaded area of the garden year-round. When I wasn’t looking, both Clematis ‘Niobe’ and C. ‘Etoile Violette’ clambered into the twiggy framework, extending the bloom season.

Bloodtwig dogwood is adaptable, thriving in full sun to partial shade, and it tolerates many soil conditions, though its happiest receiving periodic supplemental summer watering. Hardy to USDA Zone 4, the bloodtwig dogwood is dense and woody, a slower grower than other selections. To ensure maximum winter interest, cut it back to 12 inches in early spring; new growth is more colorful. Tiny white flowers, appearing in May and June, produce clusters of purple berries that attract birds. The glowing stems are valued for their use in fresh and dried flower arrangements.

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ is sometimes referred to in the trade as C. s. ‘Winter Flame’ or C. s. ‘Winter Beauty’. Don’t let the confusion deter you from starting a fire in your winter garden.