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How to Forage Cornus sericea – Red Twig Dogwood branches for winter decor


It’s late october and the time is right to forage or harvest your garden for the beautiful red twigs of Cornus sericea.

Cornus sericea – the dogwood with red twigs

Red Twig dogwood branches are nature’s holiday decor. They’re often used to make wreaths, arrangements, and container decorations for the holidays.

A few years back, a few of my commercially purchased stems leafed out after a mild winter spent with their cut stems stuffed into the soil of a holiday container.  They had taken root and once I transplanted them to my garden they have since thrived (I subsequently have 5 large dogwood shrubs in my garden!).

Over the years since, I have learned a few tips for making most of these shrubs when it comes to harvesting their beautiful red stems.

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset

The leaves are just about to fall off the shrubs here in Central MA and as soon as they do, this will be the perfect time to cut the stems that you wish to use this year.  These stems will be fresh and pliable for use right away.

The tools for harvesting red twig dogwood bush branches

I’ve been working with these loppers from Troy-bilt all season.  These or something similar for pruning are great for a few reasons:

  1. They have nice long handles, reducing your reach – and therefore reducing the likelihood of taking a stem to the eye…(been there, eye-patches, it turns out, aren’t as fun as pirates make them out to be).
  2. These particular pruners (Troy-bilt Comfort Classic Anvil Loppers) are standing up to my unique style of tool-torture. That is, they arrived in June and have not seen the inside of a shed since. I am messy tool person – and these loppers have been left on the ground, in the garden, draped over a fence, or generally not put away where they are protected.  I too this photo last week – and they still look and perform like new.
  3. Cutting with loppers is much easier than cutting with regular pruners. (given that these are woody stems). The handles give you good leverage (for easier cutting) and the anvil blade gives you a cleaner cut on tougher material (better for the remaining plant).

When to Harvest Winter Dogwood Stems

Do not prune back or harvest every stem in the fall!

It is best to take only about 30% of the stems during this autumn garden harvest.  Same goes for plants that you might find in the woods that you are cutting from – don’t take everything.  You don’t want to harm the plant’s ability to survive the winter.  

Where to find Wild Red Twig Dogwood Branches

If you are foraging, look for this shrub in wild areas where the soil is wet. River edges are a common location. A sunny location will ensure the plant gets enough sun to keep the stems red. (Wild dogwood growing in the shade will likely have brown and less showy colored stems).

In the very early spring you can pollard the entire plant. (Pollarding is to cut pack all the of stems to the main root-stock coming out of the ground). This will force the shrub to put out many new stems that you can harvest next fall.

If you can’t find red-twig dogwood in the wild, or if you aren’t growing it in your garden, I’ve listed some local sources in the northern  part of the USA below. (Including those where these images were sourced).



Top Photo by Leila Issa on Unsplash

Top image from Local Color Flowers. They services the Baltimore and Mid-atlantic region with all-local grown cut flowers and stems (including red-twig dogwood).  

Image by Rochelle Greayer

Holiday Container image by Garden Crossings who sells plants (including a variety of red-twig dogwoods) out of Zeeland, Michigan. 

The wreath image (bottom) is by Nick McCullough of Red Twig Farms in Central Ohio.  Contact them for a variety of branches used for winter container decorations. 

Disclosure: Sponsored by Troy-bilt. I am not an employee of Troy-bilt and all opinions are my own.

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  1. Donald Tole says:

    Hi….where can l sell red dogwood stems and what are they worth?

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