Arborizing a Red Twig Dogwood

As any of you who have grown this plant knows, it tends to want to become a 10-15 foot ball. I’m trying something different. I’m training it up to become a tree. I got the idea at the NW Flower and Garden Show a couple of years ago with a yellow twig one and it caught my imagination. And since I had a wet space for a small tree but not a ball, I decided to try to see if I could train it up to become that small tree.

This can be done with many plants that are often at that middle range between real trees and large shrubs. I’ve seen this done well with lilacs, and laurels, strawberry trees and even some rhodies. If it gets too big to be a shrub for you, you might consider making it a tree instead. It exposes the inner bark which can be wonderful. Many shrubby trees have nice bark… like this dogwood that is bright red in the winter.

So often I think people think in terms of cutting Back a plant, cutting it Down in effect. Sometimes it’s good to look up and see what can happen in that piece of sky above the plant. Maybe you can make use of it to increase your garden “airprint” as well as its footprint. It makes your garden bigger even if it’s not… Something we smallholders have to keep in mind…

I’ve put these pictures in chronological order and you can see how insanely fast this thing grows. I  was shocked. I planted it in April of 2011 as the first couple of pictures show. Even there you can see the difference in just 3 weeks of growth. The next one is in July and it’s grown a lot by then. I’m beginning to be amazed…

Here it’s the spring of March in 2012. Then March again and later on in June. The next one is of the tree in fall in November after losing its leaves. You can see that I’ve done some removal of branches I didn’t want but I haven’t taken off everything. I just want to be careful. I sometimes have a tendency to prune too heavily and that’s not always wise…

The next shot, in March of 2013, is one of the whole north side fence area. It shows you how huge that dogwood has gotten in context with the other plants. You can see how big the Scotch Pine Inverleith has grown well here and the choke cherry near the dogwood too has done well. But the dogwood is the standout. I am truly amazed by now!!

The remaining shots are all during this last year. I guess I decided to shoot it often. I pruned it heavily at first and then let it go where it wanted except for pruning off some suckers that I knew I wouldn’t want. I established a good framework with the 6 branches I had in the first year. And I waited to prune it this year till all those gorgeous colored leaves had fallen. Patience has its rewards…

The next shot shows you the same line of the north side back fence that I showed you above. But here it’s taken in late October of this year and you can barely make out the branches of the dogwood high above the ones of the Taxodium and the choke cherry. It’s much taller than they are.

The last shot shows you the tree as it is today, actually this morning since I took this just now. I pruned it a bit after it lost its leaves so it has the structure I hope will work for it for now at least. I have no idea what will come in the years ahead. I’m envisioning a round headed tree about 10-12 feet tall and the same across, but up high.

It’ll compete with the Taxodium and the Cryptomeria perhaps, but I think they’ll do alright together. I’ll try to help them along to do that. They both grow much slower than the dogwood does, tho both do pretty well. They can hold their own I believe, with some careful pruning to make sure the dogwood doesn’t shade them out too much.

So this is it. I let the dogwood grow a lot and then pruned it to shape it and removed the suckers and crossing branches I knew I didn’t want early on. I’ve kept to that practice since the first year or so and pruned off things I thought were in the way of the framework developing into a tree like structure. It’s different I’ll admit. But I like it, and I think it’ll work really fine… 😉

Making trees from shrubs,

Steve

BTW: In actual specific fact this tree is a Conus sericea “Baileyi”, or Bailey’s Red Twig Dogwood, a cultivar selected for it’s lack of suckers (Ha!) and it’s intense red colors in the winter (Yeah!). The species may in fact get somewhat larger and I’ve seen them at 20 feet or more in the wilds. Just so ya know…

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Great Idea to do with this shrub. I have one that is HUGE, I wish I knew you could do this back when I first put my dogwood in the ground. I did train all my tiger eye sumacs to be small trees and that worked out well..shoot, I wish I knew about this with a dogwood. 🙂 I love their bark in the winter…red is so pretty against the snow:-)

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    • Well to be honest, the jury is still out as to how well this will work. It’s only been a couple of years after all, but it’s going so well so far I have high hopes. Maybe you could still prune yours up some. It might take some real work to find the right leaders and all but it’s possible to renovate a large plant by thinning it out a bit at a time, not too much at once. But you know how to do it I’m sure since you did your Sumacs. Lovely small trees when they’re pruned up! Thanks so much for your comment!
      peace,
      Steve

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      • I don’t know if I did my sumacs correctly:-), I just jumped in and tried it and they are fun in the garden. What I like about the concept is you get the privacy from the bush, birds can enjoy it, and also have room below to grow other plants, food, herbs etc. I have two dogwoods in our yard. The variegated is not too large, but the leaves in a tree form would be interesting..really pretty I bet..hmm..might try it..you have inspired me to look at it and think about maybe trying it this spring:-)

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        • I always love to give people new ideas. I was hoping that would happen with this post so thank you very much! I’m sure you did a great job on your sumacs. And I agree that having the space under the tree is nice for other plants. Some of the flowers in the first few photos are English Wallflowers and they were so beautiful and smelled like red Kool Aid from several feet away! And in others you can see the Jacob Kline Bee Balm that is growing way up in the dogwood, quite happily… Good luck trying out the new idea in the spring… and don’t take off too much! Might take you a couple of years to do it so you don’t get tons of suckers… 😉
          Happy pruning!
          Steve

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