As flowers and foliage fade ahead of the winter months, these trees and shrubs offer fiery colour. Plantsman Andy McIndoe chooses the best winter stems for late-season colour. Photographs Dianna Jazwinski
Hardy deciduous shrubs and trees producing young shoots with colourful bark are mostly natives of Europe and North America and are perfect for making your garden look better in winter. The stems are most colourful and eye catching soon after leaves fall in late autumn, though some are at their best in midwinter. Often the production of coloured stems is stimulated by hard pruning the previous spring. If pruned annually, or every two to three years, most reach a height of 1.5-2.4m with a spread of around 1.8m and most will tolerate or even enjoy wet or waterlogged conditions, and thrive on most soils including clay and chalk. Stem colour is best in full sun.
A suckering shrub with upright, prickly stems covered in white bloom. Left unpruned it makes an impenetrable thicket, so annual pruning to ground level is the best practice. 3m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b.
Known as the ghost bramble for its dark-purple winter stems that are heavily covered with chalky white bloom. The fern-like leaves are green above, silver-white beneath. The stems are both upright and arching and carry small, purplish flowers that develop into inedible black fruits. Ideal under the light shade of trees. 90cm. RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b.
Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’
Most widely planted and popular, this blood-twig dogwood has upright, branched shoots, if hard pruned annually. Stems are often gold-orange at the base, glowing flame-orange towards the tips. 1.5m. RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b.
Cornus alba Baton Rouge (‘Minbat’)
A striking, red-barked dogwood with scarlet winter stems. Its dark-green leaves turn a rich purple in autumn. Flattish heads of small, white spring flowers are followed by bluish-white berries. 1.5m. RHS H7, USDA 2a-8b.