Underhill House is built on a site that was wooded when we first saw it.  The southern-facing slope was covered with oaks on the upper part and a little patch of planted pine trees below them down to the pond.  The oaks have fallen victim to oak wilt, which is slowly and inexorably making its way around the hill toward the north. Each year, new victims suddenly wither and die.

We have done our best to put the stricken trees to good use.  A number of them were milled into the boards that make the roof of our barn.  Others have found a place as unmilled timbers in our house.

The pines we decided to cut to open a southern exposure for our passive solar house design.  Those trees were milled and used for the roof of Underhill House.

YARD Now that the house is built, the space around it looks a bit like a war zone.  After the building year will come the healing year.  A lot of the bare and beat up dirt will be planted in cover crops this year to begin to recreate a living soil.  It’s also the quickest and easiest way to protect the soil from erosion while we make more specific plans.

Basically the plan is to create a habitat that is friendly to birds and invertebrates using native plants.

We want to establish hedges that will block the view of the house from the pond so that we disturb the wildlife as little as possible.   As a first step, we are trying out a method we just learned to transfer Red Osier Dogwood Cornus sericea.

We’ve all seen it.  It stands out in the winter as the shrub with vivid red branches. It can be the only color in a snowy landscape  That was what drew me to it initially, but the more I learn – the more I like.

It’s a native shrub that grows quickly and can reach 9 feet tall, so it will work well as part of our hedge to protect the pond.

Dogwood-flowers As far as being friendly to wildlife – The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract many kinds of insects, including long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies. The short-tongued bee, Andrena fragilis, is an oligolectic visitor (specialist pollinator) of Cornus spp. (Dogwood shrubs). Other insects feed on the leaves, suck plant juices, or bore through the wood. These species include the caterpillars of many moths, long-horned beetles , leaf beetles , aphids , plant bugs  and others.

Untitled-2Because of their higher than average fat content, the white drupes of Red-Osier Dogwood are an important food source of wood ducks, songbirds, and upland gamebirds. The fallen leaves are eaten by some turtles, including snapping turtles, and we saw two big, old snappers in the pond last year.

When I read in Birdscaping in the Midwest: A Guide to Gardening with Native Plants to Attract Birds by Mariette Nowak about a very simple way to transplant red twig branches right now just before they bud out,  Doug and I were very eager to try this  This is a great book and I am using it as one of my guides as we plan our landscape.

Many online sources describe a much more complex process of cutting twigs in the fall and then go into various methods of preparing them for spring planting, but according to Nowak, dogwoods can be propagated from stem cuttings by basically sticking them in the ground.

red-twig-in-prairie We have a thicket of dogwood on the edge of our prairie, so we went up there with pruners and a bucket of water.  The stems should be 2-3 feet long and be kept wet from cutting till planting, preferably on the same day.

Doug-pounding-in-pegThe bottom of the branch is cut on a slant.  You make a hole in the ground by driving in a metal rod, then push in the branch and tap it on the flat-cut top to make a good connection.

planting-red-twigThen water it and mulch it.  And keep watering every week for the first season.  Nowak suggests using twigs 1/2″ to 1-1/2″ thick.  We planted a thick and thin one at each site to see which one works best.

red-twig-bedI’m very hopeful that this simple method works.  If it does, I am going to be transplanting dogwood to more areas.

What a great plant!

8 replies

  1. Just curious – are these twigs that you’re planting not inviting to the deer? I know that red dogwood spreads itself very easily when twigs tough the ground, so I’m sure you’ll be successful in the propagation if the deer don’t care for them.

  2. It’s now September. How did your method of planting the dogwoods work? I’ve tried this method with 18 inch long suckers, planting a foot of the cutting below ground with about a 70 percent success rate. I was interested in how your larger cuttings did.

    P S I had a greater success rate during the summer of 2012 which was extremely droughty than I did this year when we had ample rain, particularly in spring and early summer. I did minimal supplemental watering either year.

    • Thanks for your question, Ed. This story has not yet had a happy ending. We live in an area with extreme deer overpopulation, and they are terribly destructive to the native plants. They have eaten the shrubs we replanted back to sticks every winter. They are still struggling to grow, but I’m not really optimistic. The deer eat many of the wild plants in the woods around us, but seem to especially zero in on what we have planted. We have not fenced them yet because that takes time and money prioritized elsewhere. We have fenced in our young apple trees, which suffered the same fate, and they are doing great now. I will post on this again.

    • Thanks for asking, Kena. Sadly, the deer are out of control in this part of the world. They have kept out dogwood from taking off, but they are still there, and hopefully getting strong root systems. I’m hoping that if we have time to get them fenced off in the fall, they will start to be a presence. I have to prioritize, and have put more time into protecting young oaks in the woods. Their buds seem to be a particular deer candy, so I go out each fall and cover a number of twig ends with tiny squares of aluminum foil. The challenge is then exactly when to take them off. Now some of these young oaks are stretching past deer browse height.

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