Red Osier Dogwood: a perfect four season native shrub

My husband jokes that I mention Red Osier Dogwoods (Cornus stolonifera) at least once a day. He’s exaggerating, I’m sure, but I admit that I do talk about my favourite native shrub a lot. And why not? It’s attractive all year ’round and has high wildlife value.

I grow Red Osier Dogwoods in four locations around our yard:

  • the oldest ones are in a line alongside our driveway creating a little privacy hedge,
  • another line of them, at one side of the house, separates our garden from the neighbour’s lawn,
  • a backyard grouping sits between the pond and shed where they are easily viewed from our seating area and from inside the house — where I take most of my photos of Red Osier Dogwoods,
  • and I recently dotted a few new ones in the back hedgerow.

I encourage you to add a Red Osier Dogwood shrub, or a dozen, to your yard. Here’s why …


In late May, Red Osier Dogwoods are covered in flat clusters of white flowers.

Red Osier Dogwoods in full bloom near our shed (May 27, 2022)

I don’t see many pollinators on the flowers, but obviously enough insects do visit to fertilize the flowers and produce lots of berries. Apparently, both short- and long-tongued bees, wasps, and butterflies will visit the flowers (Cowling Arboretum). This shrub is also a host plant for Spring Azure butterflies and a variety of moths.

Small Carpenter bees, I think, visiting Red Osier Dogwood flowers (May 27, 2022)


In summer, the flowers are followed by bunches of nutritious white berries that birds enjoy. For people, the berries are technically edible, but unappetizingly bitter. I haven’t tried them myself, but some indigenous people eat them mixed with sweeter fruit (Friends of Kananaskis County).

Bunches of white berries on our Red Osier Dogwood shrubs beside the driveway (September 12, 2019).

While many different birds are know to eat dogwood berries (Illinois Wildflowers bird table), I’ve only spotted Northern Cardinals, Catbirds, and vireos eating them in our yard. So far, I’ve only caught photos of Red-eyed Vireos eating the berries from shrubs by the back shed.

A Red-eyed Vireo eating Red Osier Dogwood berries (August 13, 2020).

This Red-eyed Vireo carefully examined the berry bunches before choosing a snack.

Carefully choosing a berry (August 13, 2020).

The resident Chipmunks also enjoy eating Red Osier Dogwood berries, even unripe green ones.

Chippy runs up and down the Red Osier Dogwood branches in search of berries (June 25, 2021).


These shrubs continue to rebloom throughout the summer, ensuring a continuous crop of berries into the fall. Migrating birds eat them to fuel their long journeys south.

Red Osier Dogwood berries feed birds well into the fall. (October 2020 and 2022)

This late-migrating Blue-headed Vireo perched in our front spruce tree in between eating Red Osier Dogwood berries from the shrubs below (October 11, 2020).

Also in the fall, Red Osier Dogwood leaves turn striking red and purple shades that contrast nicely with the yellows, and oranges of other fall leaves.

In the first photo, dark Red Osier Dogwood leaves contrast with fallen orange and yellow maple leaves in behind. (October 23, 2020). In the 2nd photo, a male Northern Cardinal is camouflaged in the red leaves.


In winter Red Osier Dogwoods really earn their keep. It’s one of the few plants that add ‘winter interest’ to our Ottawa garden, even when we have several feet of snow. At this point, most grasses and attractive seeds heads keeled over long ago beneath wet snow or freezing rain. However, the bright red stems of Red Osier Dogwoods stand upright above the snow and gleam in the sunshine.

I cut one quarter to one third of the stems each year to control the height of my Red Osier Dogwood shrubs along our driveway. Since younger stems are brighter than old ones, this practice ensures that my mini privacy hedge is stunning red each winter.

While their beautiful winter stems are reason enough to grow Red Osier Dogwoods, the fact that they continue to feed hungry birds in winter is another compelling reason. Some stems are still topped with white berries, albeit shriveled ones, for Northern Cardinals or lingering Robins.

1. Pretty Red Osier Dogwood stems along the driveway; 2. A cluster of shriveled Red Osier Dogwood berries that remain in winter. (December 15, 2022)

In the wild

Outside of our yard, I usually see Red Osier Dogwood growing in sunny, wet places — such as along the Ottawa River or in low-lying spots near roads. So, it makes sense that plant guides suggest growing it in moist locations. It’s obviously adaptable though because it grows well enough in our yard, even though there aren’t any particularly moist areas. Perhaps I don’t get as vigorous growth or as abundant berries. Besides the shrubs along the sunny driveway, the rest of mine get about 5 hours of sun.

During prolonged dry spells, I have had young berries turn brown and fall off. Once the rain returns, new blooms and berries form again.

Red Osier Dogwood laden with berries at Petrie Island, Ottawa (July 10, 2022).

I do grow other types of dogwoods too. I have several Gray Dogwoods in the hedgerow, but find that they sucker aggressively. In shadier areas, I am giving Pagoda Dogwood and Round-leaf Dogwood a try, which both have blue berries.

Are you convinced to grow Red Osier Dogwood in your garden? I hope so.

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