Snow now blankets many parts of the country and winter's cold has spread a palette of browns and grays over much of the landscape. But with some thoughtful plantings, you can still have spots of bright color in the garden to catch the eye and lift the heart in the bleakest weather.
As you can probably guess from their names, red-twig or blood-twig dogwoods (Cornus spp.) light up the winter landscape with their colorful branches. These shrubby relatives of dogwood trees are fast-growing, low maintenance additions to the landscape. When they drop their leaves in autumn, the vivid hues of their twigs come to the fore, making an exciting contrast against a blanket of snow, especially when these shrubs are planted in groups. Cornus sericea 'Cardinal' competes with its avian namesake for color; the cultivar 'Isanti' is equally bright, but is smaller in stature. For winter gold, plant the cultivars 'Flaviramea' or the more disease-resistant 'Budd's Yellow' with bright yellow stems.
For some real drama, add a medley of colors with Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire,' whose yellow stems tipped with orange and red will really heat up the garden during the cold months. Chosen by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) as one of it 2011 Gold Medal award winners, 'Midwinter Fire' forms a large shrub that spreads by suckers to form a dense clump. Its green leaves take on purple, red and yellow hues in autumn, then fall to reveal vivid stems that look especially nice against a backdrop of dark evergreens. Abundant clusters of white flowers in mid-spring extend its seasonal interest and are followed by dark purple berries that will entice birds to the garden.
Adaptable to many soils, except ones that are wet, and tolerant of urban conditions, 'Midwinter Fire' is an easy-care shrub that grows well in zones 4-7. It will exhibit the brightest colors when grown in full sun and given a hard pruning every spring to force lots of new growth.
Gold Medal Plants are chosen yearly by the PHS for their ease of cultivation, resistance to pest and disease problems and beauty throughout the seasons.
To find out more about 'Midwinter Fire' bloodtwig dogwood and other Gold Medal award winners, go to: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.