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Fire crackers

Colour from stems such as the dogwood light up the dark winter months

Colour can be in short supply in the dark, damp days of late winter but one group of extroverts stand out from the crowd. Shrubs with winter stem colour are one of the highlights at this time of year, promising an often riotous display of yellows, reds, purples, whites and electric greens. Grouped together or left as stand-out specimens, these bright-stemmed stalwarts will make an eye-catching display to lift the spirits on otherwise grey days.

There are a number of shrubs that will contribute valuable stem colour with the two frontrunners comprising varieties of dogwoods (Cornus species) and selected varieties of willow (Salix species). Whether you have a stand of a few shrubs of the same type or a collection of different varieties to contrast and complement, there’s no excuse not to make room for these charismatic contenders. Stems will shine out in the coldest months, reaching a climax in January and holding their colour through to March when the buds of spring finally burst.

If you’d like to have a go at growing these winter stems then now is an ideal time to plant them.

March is also the best month in our neck of the woods to prune them to ensure continued stem colour for next winter. The strongest coloured stems are the youngest, so to guarantee the best display it’s essential to cut back older stems to keep growth fresh. Pruning carried out just as the first leaves appear will have given you the longest period of stem enjoyment, while ensuring the longest possible growing season for those replacement stems to appear.

Don’t be put off by pruning – it couldn’t be easier. Simply cut stems as close to the ground as you can using a sharp pair of secateurs. Ideally you’ll take the stems to within an inch or two of the ground, and can cut them back to a stump. The post-pruning result can look a little drastic, but rest assured stronger growth will result and next winter’s performance will be another curtain-raiser.

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