At least three dogwood species are often called redtwig dogwood, and there are many cultivars within those species, some more desirable than others. All three species are grown primarily for their colorful stems, though some also have variegated foliage. Their flowers are not particularly showy.
The first redtwig dogwood is also known as red osier dogwood, or Cornus sericea. Adding to the confusion, it is also sometimes carried under its former name, C. stolonifera. While this species is not always reliable in hot, humid areas, the forms ‘Isanti’, ‘Cardinal’ and ‘Baileyi’ are usually quite good.
The next redtwig dogwod is C. alba, also known as Tartarian dogwood. It’s perhaps best known for its variegated form, ‘Elegantissima’ or ‘Argenteo-marginata’. This is a lovely plant that benefits from some afternoon shade in hot climates. It is not a plant for the Deep South.
Finally there is C. sanguinea, sometimes called bloodtwig dogwood. This one tends to grow more rapidly; without pruning it can become leggy and scruffy. A brilliant selection is ‘Midwinter Fire’. Its stems are golden orange at the base and graduate to coral red at the tips.
All three species tolerate wet soils and shade, though best color occurs in sunny sites. They are not picky about soil pH or texture. Stem color is best in northern states. Siting for maximum effect is very important. Don’t place a redtwig dogwood in front of a brick wall. A background of dark evergreens—and snow!—creates a breathtaking winter vignette.