The white flowering dogwood botanically known as Cornus florida is our state’s official flower, but there are other dogwoods in North Carolina’s forests, and one in particular is showing off right now. No, it doesn’t bloom in January, but it can add colorful razzle-dazzle to the garden in the dead of winter.

It’s called the redtwig or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), and it is more of a shrub than a small tree like the typical dogwood. Also, while Cornus florida sports large flowers, the redtwig has clusters of small, star-like blooms in the spring, while in the winter, its bare branches light up the landscape with muted red hues that come alive in the cold.

Such winter beauty didn’t go unnoticed by professional nurserymen, as this pretty native has been introduced into the trade as a quality landscape plant. Many cultivars have even been developed and include the compact “Isanti,” variegated-leaf “Sunshine,” and “Bailey,” which also has eye-catching, deep red foliage in the fall.

And just to make things confusing, there are yellow-twig cultivars of the redtwig dogwood. “Flaviramea” has been a standard for years, but “Bud’s Yellow” has shown better disease resistance. Also, consider the bright yellow stems of “Silver and Gold,” which are nicely complemented by variegated leaves during the warmer months.

The Tatarian dogwood (Cornus alba), a native of China, also shows off sizzling red branches in the winter. But a real showstopper is the bloodtwig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea), a European import that zaps the dull winter landscape with streaks of electric red, orange, and yellow. “Winter Flame,” also called “Midwinter Fire,” is an outstanding cultivar.

All of these twiggy winter beauties will have brighter glows if planted in full sun. Also, because mature branches tend to dull over time, it is best to prune out older limbs about every three years.

To Do in January

  • Winter-blooming camellias (Camellia japonica) should begin to show off this month, but after the show, there is a job to do. Be sure to rake up and dispose of any spent flowers that have fallen underneath the bush to help discourage camellia petal blight, a disease that can hurt the look of your pristine blossoms.
  • If squirrels are enjoying your bulb beds a little too much this winter, spread chicken wire as a deterrent over the ground and secure (as well as hide) it with an inch or two of mulch.
  • The vegetable garden doesn’t have to be a barren place in the winter. January is a good time to plant asparagus, onions (seeds), and sugar snap peas.
  • Got milk? Now is a good time to start saving gallon containers for use in the early spring garden. By cutting the bottoms out, they make great hot caps for tender, new plants.
  • Save your toilet paper tubes for use this spring as cutworm collars around susceptible young plants.
  • Dry indoor heat can be tough on houseplants in the winter, so provide humidity by occasionally misting the leaves and placing the pots in trays of moistened pebbles.

Editor, writer, and lecturer L.A. Jackson lives in Apex.

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