Cotoneaster is a very large genus of flowering shrubs in the rose family. There are cotoneasters that are low-growing, others used for ground cover, as well as some species that will grow as trees up to 10 feet (3.05 m) tall.
Although there are many species in the cotoneaster genus of shrubs, all produce dark-colored winter berries and have dark green foliage.
Certain species have grown in gardens of Europe since the mid-1600s. In the 1900s, many more species arrived from eastern Asia.
There are between 100 and 300 species in the genus. Many cotoneasters are classified as subspecies, and not as independent varieties.
|Height||8 to 13 feet (3.96 m)|
|Width||8 to 13 feet (3.96 m)|
|USDA Plant Hardiness Zone||Zones 5 to 7|
|Native to||Parts of Asia, Europe and Africa|
|Flower colors||Pale pink or white|
|Plant specific features||Deciduous or evergreen, pink or white flowers in Spring and clusters of showy berries in fall|
How to Plant and Grow a Cotoneaster Bush
There are so many ways in which you can grow a cotoneaster, you will be spoilt for choice. However, different species are suited to different purposes, so select your variety with care and according to your needs.
Where to Plant
Cotoneaster is such a useful plant to grow either as a low-growing, spreading shrub to use for ground cover, for a hedging plant, or even as a specimen plant in the garden border.
Whichever type of cotoneaster you intend to plant, it will do best if planted in at least a partially sunny site and in well-drained soil.
Another advantage of cotoneaster is its resistance to salt spray. This makes it a useful shrub to plant in a coastal location.
This shrub doesn’t like to be disturbed once it is established, so make sure you plant it in a good site so that you won’t want to move it in the future.
When to Plant
In common with many shrubs, the best time to plant is in the fall. The soil will be warm, and it will be easier to keep it damp until it is well-established in the ground.
This will give the roots the best chance to spread and adapt to their new environment. Planting in the autumn will also give your shrub time to settle in before the onset of winter.
Cotoneaster Shrubs Care and Maintenance
Ideally, plant in fertile soil and make sure that it drains well. With regard to pH value, cotoneaster is easy and will thrive in moderately acidic, neutral, or moderately alkaline soil.
Until the cotoneaster has developed a robust root network, it will need to be provided with supplementary watering. Thorough watering and less frequent is better than just giving the shrub a sprinkle every day.
Allowing the soil to dry out in between watering will encourage deep root growth. This will lead to the shrub being able to tolerate drought conditions in the future.
As a rule of thumb, if the top inch of the soil at the base of the plant is dry, it is time to water.
Once it is established, in the second and subsequent years, the cotoneaster will tolerate drought and only occasional watering is necessary during very hot and dry spells.
If growing your cotoneaster shrub in a container, bear in mind that pot plants dry out much quicker than in-ground plants. Much more regular watering will be needed.
When planting, provide an organic mulch to increase soil fertility and suppress weeds.
Established cotoneaster plants don’t require a lot of feeding, but a yearly application of a slow-release, balanced fertilizer will improve flower and berry production.
It will also encourage healthy new shoots and root growth. Choose a fertilizer for shrubs, one with equal quantities of nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K) in its composition.
Cotoneaster likes to be planted in a location that receives sunlight; make sure that adjacent buildings don’t shade the shrub. The more sun your cotoneaster receives, the more berries you will have and the most spectacular foliage color in the fall.
Pruning and Repotting
If you prune the cotoneaster regularly, you will keep a healthy shrub. It will keep its full, dense shape and new lush growth will be vigorous. Regular pruning will also encourage plenty of flowers and berries to form.
Pruning the cotoneaster after flowering will result in a lack of berries. A better time is late winter or early spring, before the emergence of the new season’s growth.
As with all shrubs, start pruning by cutting out all dead, diseased, and damaged wood. Then work from the center, cutting out old branches to improve the circulation of air in the middle of the plant.
When removing old branches, it is important to cut them right back to the main stem. If you cut the tips only, the new growth will grow upwards, and you will lose the rounded shape of the shrub.
Cotoneaster can be grown in a container. It is more usual to see it grown in-ground, but providing you choose a large-diameter pot, it will thrive. Start with a large-sized pot, as cotoneaster will spread outwards, and it doesn’t like to be transplanted.
Low-growing, spreading varieties of cotoneaster will do this work for you! Their low-growing branches will layer themselves and root into the ground.
Once they have rooted, you can always cut them off the parent plant and transplant them. This is a highly effective method of increasing the amount of ground cover or low hedging with little effort.
Pests and diseases
Cotoneaster isn’t really troubled by many pests and diseases, but occasionally aphids or scale insects can cause minor damage to the foliage.
Attacks from aphids usually occur during the summer, and can often be eliminated, simply, by a strong jet of water from a powerful hosepipe.
Scale insects can be controlled by the application of horticultural oil in the early spring.
Ladybugs are beneficial and will also get rid of aphids and scale insects from your plants.
Fungal disease can present after an extended period of cool, damp weather or by overwatering. Try to avoid excessive humidity by planting in a sunny location and in well-drained soil.
Temperature and Humidity
Excessive humidity is one of the main causes of fungal infections; keep the center of the plant clear of damaged and diseased wood. This will improve the airflow around the cotoneaster and reduce the build-up of humidity at the base of the plant.
Other Uses for Cotoneaster
Cotoneaster makes a good choice if you are looking to create a hedge or living fence. Planted close together, after a couple of growing seasons, the cotoneaster will form a dense barrier.
As opposed to other species, cotoneaster is thornless, so is a better choice if you have small children or animals that could be harmed by prickles.
This is a shrub that is a good choice for xeriscaping due to its drought tolerance once established. When grown in containers, cotoneasters can be trimmed to size, and they are also used to make decorative and architectural topiary shapes.
Many species of cotoneaster were used in Asian medicine as treatments for common ailments and diseases.
Some species of butterfly and moth larvae feed on cotoneaster foliage; whilst the berries are an important food source for birds in winter, the nectar-rich flowers attract beneficial insects in summer.
It is important to know that some cotoneaster species are considered invasive, and it is illegal to plant them on open land. If grown in a garden, you should take care not to allow them to escape into the wild.
This is almost impossible without removing the berries that contain the seeds. Since birds eat the berries, seed dispersal is inevitable.
Cotoneaster forms a very large root network that is difficult to eradicate, and this is how native species can quickly become overtaken. There are more ecological alternatives that will provide you with winter food for the birds.
Types of Cotoneaster You Can Grow
There are so many types of cotoneaster available, including many cultivars. First, decide what type of shrub you want – ground cover, hedging, or a specimen tree.
The next decision may be to decide if you are looking for an evergreen variety, or one with colorful autumn foliage.
Upright varieties can be trained and grown up trellises or walls as privacy screens. Multiple planting of cotoneaster makes a useful windbreak.
Wall spray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis) is an upright species that is often seen growing against a wall. This cotoneaster will grow well in a shady site, but its flowers and berries will be more abundant if it receives plenty of sunshine.
However, despite its advantages, this species is listed as invasive in certain parts of the USA and Europe, so other varieties may be a better choice.
Ground-cover cotoneaster varieties include Tibetan cotoneaster (C. conspicuous) which will spread outwards and retain a low-growing habit. It grows as an evergreen and will grow in shade under trees. This variety has large berries following masses of pretty star-shaped, white flowers.
One of the best cotoneasters to grow as a specimen shrub is a beautiful cotoneaster (Cotoneaster amoenus) which will grow to around 5 feet tall and wide. It is very hardy and native to South East China.
This variety has white flowers in the summer and dark green foliage. The leaves shimmer in sunlight, due to the fine hairs on the underside of the leaves. The clusters of vibrant, scarlet berries last well throughout the winter months.
Whichever species of cotoneaster you decide to include in your planting scheme, you will find it is a very easy plant. Difficult, even extreme conditions such as drought, salt, and poor soil are unlikely to test a cotoneaster.
The only downside, and it is an important one, is that growing this non-native shrub can lead to the loss of native varieties. Invasive plants are best avoided and replaced by native ones if possible.
*image by OLAYOLA/depositphotos