Cytisus scoparius (common broom) is a deciduous, flowering, perennial shrub. The name “broom” is also given to other plants in the Genisteae tribe, such as the French broom and Spanish broom.
Native to northern Africa, and western and Central Europe, this plant commonly grows in heathland, shrub, and woodland.
This perennial, also known as the Scotch or Scot’s broom, is grown both as an ornamental plant and for its tolerance to very acidic soil conditions.
In the 1100s, the common broom was the emblem of the Plantagenet kings. The name “Plantaganet” comes from the Latin, Planta genista (Genista plant). Geoffrey of Anjou reportedly threw a sprig of broom into his helmet, prior to going into battle.
Wild broom still grows in dry soil in parts of Europe, especially in France and Spain.
The common broom was introduced to several states in America in the late 1800s. From then, and until the early 1900s, it was commonly planted in gardens. Due to its tolerance to harsh growing conditions, it was planted as a roadside shrub.
It has been used to control soil erosion on steep banks and slopes. Its roots knit together, even in rock, and uphold dangerously unstable cliff faces. Similarly, it is planted on sand dunes alongside sand-binding grasses, due to its tolerance to sea air and salt spray.
|Scientific name||Cytisus scopariusGenista|
|Common names||Broom, Common broom, Scot’s broom, Scotch broom, English broom|
|Height||1 to 3 m (3 to 9 feet)|
|Width||1 to 1.5 m (3 – 4 ½ feet)|
|USDA Plant Hardiness Zone||Zones 5 to 8|
|Flower colors||Bright yellow|
|Plant specific features||Tolerates all soil types and can be invasive|
How to Plant and Grow Broom Bushes
You will find that this plant is tough, resilient, and very long-lived. Broom grows quickly and can be either evergreen or deciduous.
Where to Plant
Broom prefers an open and sunny planting site. These shrubs can look good planted in a shrubbery alongside evergreens.
If you have a dwarf variety, then this is excellent to plant for a rock garden.
If you have a steep piece of sloping ground that is difficult to work, then planting a line of broom is an ideal choice. The roots will help to hold the soil together, controlling erosion.
The plant is low-maintenance so requires little intervention during the year and in the spring, it will provide a brilliant show of scented and bright yellow flowers. It is fast-growing and will attract pollinating insects and bees.
When to Plant
The best time to plant a broom shrub is in the Autumn. It is also possible during the spring, once the danger of frost has passed.
Broom Shrub Care and Maintenance
Broom is very tolerant of poor soil; it prefers poor acidic soil to alkaline. If you have soil that is high in lime or chalk content (alkaline), consider growing a broom in the Genista genus, rather than a Cytisus. Genistas will tolerate more alkaline soil.
The soil can be heavy and clayey, light, sandy, or loamy. The only real requirement is that the sold is well draining. For best results, plant in acidic soil.
Until properly established, the broom plants should not be allowed to dry out. In the spring, apply a mulch, suitable for ericaceous plants.
Choose a mulch material designed for rhododendrons and azaleas. A mulch will help to conserve moisture in the soil and prevent the new roots from drying out.
Once the broom is established, and if the growing conditions are good, then the broom will have very little additional nutritional requirements.
If you decide to fertilize, use a slow-release, general purpose fertilizer and not one that is high in nitrogen. An annual application, in Spring, is sufficient for the broom.
For best results, plant broom in as sunny a spot as possible. Although the Cytisus will tolerate some shade, lacking sunlight will result in fewer flowers and a weaker, leggy plant.
Different varieties and hybrids have different light requirements, so follow the guidelines given.
Pruning and Repotting
It isn’t necessary to prune a broom, but plants often don’t live for very long. The life expectancy of a broom shrub can be greatly extended through the appropriate use of pruning.
Depending on whether your variety blooms on new or old wood determines when pruning needs to take place.
For Cytisus varieties, pruning should be done once a year, immediately after flowering.
This is a broom that flowers on old wood. It needs sufficient time to grow back woody stems if it is to flower the following spring.
If you delay pruning until the Autumn or winter, you will lose the following season’s flowers.
Before pruning, remove any dead or damaged branches from the plant. Clear away the woody debris. Then, cut the shrub back by approximately one-third, cutting the stems at a 45-degree angle rather than straight across.
For Genistas, pruning can become rather complicated. Some varieties bloom on old wood, so these need to be treated in the same way as the Cytisus varieties.
Others flower on new wood, which entails a different pruning procedure. Pruning shrubs that flower on new wood can be done a little later in the season.
The most usual way to propagate broom is from stem cuttings, taken when they are semi-ripe in mid to late summer. Softwood Cuttings taken in the spring are too new and soft and are unlikely to root.
Hormone rooting powder helps to develop roots quicker. The cuttings should be potted up or placed in trees in well-draining potting compost.
If possible, place the cuttings in a cold frame and until they have rooted make sure they are kept moist. The pots or trays should be kept frost-free during the winter and planted out the following spring.
It is possible, though less reliable and slower, to sow broom seeds. In the wild, the plant will die if it is burned, but its seeds will germinate rapidly after exposure to fire.
Broom seeds spread and self-sow easily; this is one of the main reasons why broom is sometimes considered invasive. Its abundant reproduction can threaten native plants.
Pests and diseases
Like all shrubs, the broom is not exempt from attack by insects. Slugs and snails, as well as certain caterpillars, will find the broom flowers and foliage attractive due to their sweetness.
Use an organic pesticide to eliminate slugs and snails, because both can damage the leaves of the broom if left unchecked.
Caterpillars have huge appetites and can cause a lot of damage to the foliage of the broom.
But, the good thing about a caterpillar infestation is that the caterpillars are visible and easy to spot.
The most effective way to remove them is by hand. Simply pick them off the leaves, remembering to check the underside, where eggs may be incubating.
It’s worth mentioning that in some states, such as California, the broom plant is defined as a pest plant. Broom is considered invasive and a risk to existing native flora. Government programs aim to rid the state of broom, and replace it with non-threatening, species.
Temperature and Humidity
Broom will flower very early in the season in USDA zones 8 to 10. Cool temperatures for an extended period in the autumn and winter are necessary for flower production.
For best results, plant the broom where humidity levels are not too high.
Other Uses for Broom
As well as its place as an ornamental garden plant, common broom flowers are used for cut flowers. However, some consider broom flowers in the house to be unlucky.
Broom serves to hold the earth together in places where there is a problem with soil erosion.
This plant provides shelter for deer and other wildlife.
It also provides shelter for newly planted crops by providing a wind break until the plants are established.
Although broom doesn’t really grow large enough to provide useful timber, a mature stem will be very hard and beautifully grained. It is prized for its use as a veneer in cabinet work.
Broom branches, as well as stems and twigs, are used as a material to make brooms and baskets. They are also substitutes for thatch in roofing and reeds in fence making.
The bark of the common broom makes a fiber, which is produced by soaking the branches in water. It is used to make paper and cloth. The bark also contains high levels of tannins and, in former times, was used to tan leather.
Formerly, too, broom was added to the mix when brewing beer. It conveyed a bitterness and increased its strength. Once hops were introduced, broom was not used anymore for this purpose.
In gastronomy, broom flower buds were a delicacy on the feast tables of kings. They were served as an appetizer. The flower blossom was used to make a drink that reputedly prevented grout and acted as a body purifier. Flower seeds were used as a coffee substitute.
It should be noted that all parts of C. scoparius are potentially and mildly toxic to humans, causing stomach upsets. Care should be taken when handling this plant, and no part should be ingested.
In livestock farming, the tops of the broom were fed to sheep in winter, helping to prevent foot rot.
The leaves produce a green-colored dye.
Types of Broom You Can Grow
Common broom, also known as sweet broom can be a species of either Cytisus or Genista. These are very similar to look at, but Genista is less problematic if you have alkaline or limey soil.
There are varieties that will only grow a few inches (10 – 15 cm) tall. Cytisus “Ardoinii”, despite its dwarf habit, still produces an abundance of instantly recognizable pea-like broom flowers every spring.
Other dwarfs or low-growing species include the hybrid Cytisus x “kewensis”, and “Lena”.
Whilst most varieties of broom produce yellow flowers in spring, there are varieties that have deep red flowers instead. Cytisus Burkwoodii is the best-known of these crimson-flowering broom shrubs.
If you are looking for a broom to plant as a hedging plant, look for an evergreen variety and one that is free-flowering and fast-growing.
There is a vast choice of both Genista and Cytisus types from which to choose, so you can select a variety to suit your garden requirements. This may depend on whether you want a taller or shorter plant, evergreen or deciduous.
Broom is commonly seen as shrubs. With their bright spring show of yellow flowers, they are planted along roadsides, grow wild on cliffs, as well as being cultivated in gardens across the world.
Providing you don’t let your broom become invasive and take steps to control its growth, the broom can be enjoyed for its flowers, ease of care, and fast growth habit.
*image by aga77ta/depositphotos