The Cardinal-Magnet Shrub That Will Bring A Pop Of Color To Your Yard

Winter can be a dreary time of the year in much of the United States. Encouraging the bright red northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) to visit your yard brings color and life to your space, even in the dead of winter. One of the best shrubs to attract cardinals to your garden is the red twig dogwood, a plant almost as beautiful and colorful as the birds it attracts.

Northern cardinals live throughout the Eastern United States and in parts of the Southwest. While only the males have bright red feathers with a black mask shape around their eyes, female cardinals also have red undertones, colorful beaks, and a subtle mask pattern. Cardinals mate for life so you may see pairs together year round. These beautiful birds generally eat seeds, grains, and fruits, and as they are nonmigratory, you can enjoy their beauty all year, though they are most noticeable in winter.

Red twig dogwood is a hardy and beautiful North American native

Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea), sometimes called redosier dogwood, is a medium-sized shrub native to North America. While it is beautiful in summer with its bright green leaves and white clusters of flowers, its best time to shine is in winter when its bright red branches are fully visible. The dogwood's white berries add a cheery sparkle to the plant in fall, and while they are poisonous for humans, the berries are popular with wildlife.

Red twig dogwood grows well in a variety of soil types and can handle full to part sun. Different cultivars can reach different sizes, from the 'Arctic Fire' cultivar which generally doesn't grow above 5 feet to the 'Cardinal' cultivar which can easily grow to 10 feet in height and width. Hardy in USDA zones 2 through 7, red twig dogwood is surprisingly adaptable and can thrive in a variety of soil types. It is also relatively drought-tolerant once established. 

How red twig dogwoods attract cardinals

While the berries of dogwood trees are poisonous to humans, they are beloved by birds, including cardinals, bluebirds, and juncos. In addition to being an excellent source of food, red twig dogwoods also provide cardinals and other birds with a good spot to hide from predators, as well as a potential nesting site. By planting your dogwood near a birdfeeder, cardinals should have a variety of food to enjoy all winter, even after the dogwood berries are gone for the year.

Cardinals can be vulnerable to cats and other predators, so try to keep cats out of your garden if you're hoping to attract cardinals and other birds. Cardinals often live at the edge of woods and forests, so consider planting other native shrubs or small trees near your dogwood to provide a diverse habitat for your local cardinals. Elderberry and serviceberry shrubs are particularly good options that are loved by cardinals and pair beautifully with red twig dogwoods.