It may sound a bit peculiar, but there are a couple of shrubs in my landscape I admire most after they have dropped their leaves in the fall and stand naked, offering nothing but their magnificent branches.
Harry Lauder’s walking stick, botanically known as Corylus avellana “Contorta,” garners the most attention in my winter landscape. It is planted near the front door where we can admire its branches – spiraling and contorted, twisting and coiling – whenever we come or go. Concealed by foliage most of the season, they become a dramatic focal point in the winter garden, especially when they are dusted with snow or frosted with ice.
Harry Lauder’s walking stick grows best in well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Be sure to plant it where it will be seen in winter, if not by the front door like mine, outside a kitchen window or at the corner of a patio. Imagine cardinals perched like Christmas ornaments on its curious branches.
Branches can be pruned to use in arrangements throughout the year and are spectacular when combined with stems of winterberry and greens in a holiday bouquet.
No plants are perfect and Harry Lauder’s walking stick is no exception. Straight-stemmed suckers from the roots must be pruned out a couple of times each year, and Japanese beetles love the foliage in summer, so control of some kind will be needed.
Red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea “Cardinal”) is another winter showstopper. Even though it is planted farther away from my house, its brilliant red stems are appreciated from a distance. They positively glow against glistening white snow.
This multistemmed shrub grows very quickly to its mature height of at least 6 feet tall, but it is easily pruned to maintain a smaller stature. Red-twig dogwoods are adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions including damp soil.
They require very little maintenance once established, but an annual pruning is needed for the brightest-colored stems. Since newer stems offer the most vivid color, a third of the oldest stems should be removed every spring.
Cut some stems in spring to accompany pansies in spring containers and window boxes. Cut some in winter to add color to porch pots filled with greens.
Diana Stoll is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. The “Learning to Grow” column runs weekly during warmer months of the year. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information. Feedback on this column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.