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AKA Dogwood, Cornus Midwinter Fire

I love this plant!  Its one of my all-time favourites and in my humble opinion deserves to be grown more widely.

Cornus sanguinea Midwinter Fire is a native of Europe and Western Asia where it grew in scrubland and hedgerows.  The botanical name of sanguinea comes from Latin ‘sanguis’ meaning blood because the stems are traditionally red.

Why should I grow it?

For the bright stems in winter!

This is a deciduous shrub (loses its leaves in winter.} The green leaves are not anything special but they do turn orange later in the year for a nice Autumnal display and drop to reveal fiery orange and red stems all Winter.  There are also white summer flowers and black berries during Autumn, so there is something interesting to look at all year.

….it goes well in a variety of gardens

Ideal for growing in a winter border, it also suits informal wildlife, cottage, mixed, oriental, architectural and woodland gardens and looks good besides water and in damp areas. It makes an unusual small deciduous informal hedge too.

Plant with other Cornus, Viburnum davidii, Skimmia and Euonymus as well as brightly coloured Spring bulbs for a fantastic winter border. I have mine in a partially shaded spot and grow ferns and lime green and orange Heuchera underneath.

…and its good for wildlife

Midwinter Fire attracts bees, birds, butterflies​/​moths and other pollinators with its flowers and berries.

What do I need to know?

It is a fast-growing hardy shrub with a rounded bushy habit.

This Cornus can have the ultimate height of 1.5-2.5m and spread 1.5-2.5m which takes 5-10 years if you don’t prune it, but is usually kept much smaller.

Grow it in full sun or partial shade, it can face north, south, east or west. Midwinter Fire is very hardy and will withstand -20 (H6)

It will grow in any reasonable garden soil and while it will tolerate damp conditions, avoid very wet soil and very dry soil.

Midwinter Fire flowers are small and white and in appear May to June.

Its’ season of interest is mainly Winter.

The more technical bit:

Care:  You will need to do a bit of pruning. Pruning is a good idea as young stems have the brightest colour. If you don’t prune, stems eventually become dull.  Don’t prune at all for the couple of years after you have planted your Midwinter Fire to give it time to establish.

Pruning is not complicated, do it between February and April, this gives the plant time to regrow before next Winter.

There are 2 ways to prune Midwinter Fire:

Once every 3 years.    Prune the whole plant down to 6 – 8 inches high every 2 or 3 years. A bit vicious I know so dont do it often.

You will lose the flowers that year and the Midwinter Fire doesn’t look very nice for a couple of months but you don’t have to prune very often and its simple.   This is how I prune mine.

If your Midwinter Fire is in deep shade or in poor soil conditions use this first method.

Here you can see I pruned the whole shrub right down to the base to about 8 inches above the ground


Every year. Prune only 1/3 of the stems down to 6 – 8 inches high, leaving the other 2/3 intact.

So if you have 6 stems prune down 2, if you have 9 stems prune down 3 and so on. The next year do the same with some long stems.

Choose the oldest stem, these stems are thicker and duller in colour.

This leaves the younger untouched stems to flower and berry but is a bit more complicated.

Here I have a Cornus with 12 stems so I have cut 4 down to around 8 inches from the ground

Anything else?

After any pruning mulch around the plant with some rotten organic matter (compost) and give it a balanced feed (something like blood bone and fish meal or Growmore), this will encourage new growth which is the brightest.

For more information Pruning for colourful stems or large foliage / RHS Gardening is an interesting read.

Any problems with Midwinter Fire?

Midwinter Fire is fairly robust and pest free the only problem is might be horse chestnut scale


How do I get more?  Either buy some or propagate!

A bit more technical but it is easy to propagate. Either layer low stems into the ground or take hardwood cuttings in early November and leave in a cold frame until the Spring or go to the garden centre and get another one, they aren’t hugely expensive.


Top Tip:

Don’t overcrowd it with other plants, it needs space around it to be fully appreciated, it is a feature plant after all, if you have a larger border plant several together for a stunning display in Winter.

Another tip is to ensure Midwinter Fire are well watered in the summer as this ensures their stems are more colourful in the Winter.

Interesting facts:

The Prefix ‘dog’ in Dogwood is sometimes given to species considered to be common or of little value, the fruits are bitter and inedible although apparently the oil was once as fuel in lamps.

The wood is very durable and tough, the shoots were once cut and sharpened to make animal prods or ‘dags’ to herd livestock. Otsi, the Iceman found preserved in 1991 had a quiver of arrows made with Dogwood shafts.

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