Known just as well as pyracantha, firethorn is a very tough and resilient shrub that will thrive with minimal care, once it is established.
Firethorn is grown for its evergreen foliage and berries. Although it produces clusters of small white flowers in the Spring, these smell unpleasant.
Firethorn is primarily cultivated for the masses of brightly colored berries produced in the fall.
Firethorn or Pyracantha, grows rapidly, and because of this, it can outcompete native species for food and water. Consequently, pyracantha is classified as an invasive plant in certain states of North America.
Its name comes from the two Greek words for fire (pyr) and thorn (akantha).
|Scientific name||Pyracantha coccinea|
|Common names||Pyracantha, firethorn|
|Height||8 to 20 feet (6.1 m)|
|Width||8 to 20 feet (6.1 m)|
|USDA Plant Hardiness Zone||Zones 6 to 9|
|Native to||Europe, Asia|
|Blooming season||Late Spring, Summer|
|Plant specific features||Fast-growing evergreen or semi-evergreen, produces masses of berries in the fall. Classified as invasive in certain regions.|
How to Plant and Grow a Firethorn Bush
Where to Plant
Firethorn or Pyracantha coccinea is a versatile and fast-growing shrub that can be adapted to a number of growing conditions. It can grow as a container plant, or be trained to climb up a wall or trellis. Pyracantha is equally popular as a hedging species.
Although it is an attractive garden shrub, with all-year interest, it does have very prickly stems and needs to be planted where its vicious thorns will not hurt passers-by. If planting along a drive or by a doorway, keep this in mind!
When to Plant
Pyracantha or firethorn is a shrub that grows rapidly. It is best to plant it either in the Spring or the fall.
Firethorn Shrubs Care and Maintenance
Soil needs to be well-draining, but it is possible to grow firethorn successfully in a variety of soil types. This shrub isn’t fussy about pH levels and will thrive in both acid and alkaline soils, though it will do best in sandy soil.
Newly planted pyracantha shrubs need to be given sufficient quantities of water in order that they can establish a strong root network.
The most efficient method of watering the shrub is to water deeply, but less often. This encourages roots to grow downwards to seek out moisture rather than spreading close to the surface.
Deep roots enable the shrub to tolerate dry spells. Once this root system is developed, a firethorn will not need too much water.
An established pyracantha shrub is considered to be drought resistant, and will only require supplementary irrigation during very long hot, dry spells.
It is not necessary to fertilize a firethorn or pyracantha. However, early in the Spring, you can apply a light dose of balanced, slow-release fertilizer if you wish. This will encourage new growth, good flower and fruit production, and help to keep the shrub in a healthy state.
When selecting a fertilizer, make sure that it is not too high in nitrogen content. Shrubs that receive too much nitrogen will produce luscious foliage but at the expense of flowers and berries.
You can plant firethorn in full sun or partial shade. However, the sunnier the planting site, the more flowers and berries will be produced.
Pruning and Repotting
Firethorn can be pruned immediately after flowering has finished. If you leave it later, you risk losing the following season’s flowers and berries because this is a shrub that flowers on old wood.
It isn’t necessary to deadhead the flowers of a firethorn shrub.
The benefits of pruning a firethorn will be a thicker and healthier plant. Always remove dead or diseased wood, particularly from the center of the shrub, to improve air circulation.
You can grow a pyracantha in a pot; repot in the Spring when necessary into a larger size container. Be aware, however, that whilst pyracantha is a good plant to grow in a container, it doesn’t like being transplanted.
It is always best to start off with a pot that is considerably larger than needed, in order to reduce the frequency of repotting. When selecting a pot, try to choose one that has good drainage.
It’s extremely easy to propagate this shrub. Use the current season’s growth, once it has started to become woody, to make stem cuttings.
The pieces of the stem should be taken from a healthy branch in mid-Summer and cut about 5 inches (12.7 cm) long. Remove the lower leaves from the sections of the stem, and cut the remaining leaves in half. This will help moisture retention in the stem.
Hormone rooting powder will encourage the stems to make roots and also speed up the rooting process.
Once you have dipped the ends of the stem cuttings into the rooting powder, insert them into pots filled with garden soil or potting compost. Cover the pots with an inverted plastic bag tied to the pot with string or an elastic band.
The pots should be kept out of direct sunlight but kept in a warm and light place.
During the rooting stage, it is important that the soil doesn’t dry out. The plastic cover will help to conserve moisture in the soil and shouldn’t be removed until you are sure that roots have started to develop.
Usually, roots will form within two months. You will know if roots have begun to grow because if you pull the cutting gently, there will be some resistance. Take care when doing this, as the new roots are fragile and will break easily if you pull too hard.
As well as multiplying firethorn shrubs from cuttings, you can collect seeds in the fall. Plant them immediately, and not too deeply in the soil.
Cover the seed tray with plastic film and place it in a refrigerator for 3 months. This is known as cold stratification and is an essential part of the germination process. During this time, the soil should be kept slightly damp, so you may need to water the trays occasionally.
After the period of cold exposure, place the seed trays in a warm area, with bright light but out of direct sunlight. Remove the plastic covering. The seeds should now germinate within two weeks.
The seedlings can be planted out once all risk of frost has passed.
Pests and diseases
This easy-to-care-for shrub does have a tendency to be troubled by scabs and blight. Both conditions can be avoided if appropriate growing conditions are maintained.
Pyracantha will not tolerate sitting in soggy soil for extended periods of time. If left in overly damp ground, as well as being prone to blight, it is also likely that the firethorn’s roots will rot.
Whereas blight is a bacterial disease, and scab is a fungus, both can spoil the look and health of the firethorn shrub.
Scabs can attack your pyracantha during the growing season. If you notice damaged fruit, leaves, or flowers on the firethorn, it is best to collect all such diseased plant material and remove and burn it.
Don’t place it on the compost heap, or the disease will continue to spread and come back in the following years. Once the diseased plant material is removed, treat the firethorn with a fungicide, which should stop the spread of the infection.
Normally, blight will attack the new growth during the Spring. The plant will suddenly wilt, the leaves will yellow and the plant will take on a burnt look.
This disease is known as fire blight. Remove all damaged parts of the firethorn as soon as you can, and treat the disease with a horticultural treatment.
Temperature and Humidity
Firethorn is hardy. In cooler climates within their growing zones, the shrub may lose some or even most of its foliage during the winter. The firethorn will withstand cold temperatures, but you can insulate its roots by applying mulch around the base of the shrub.
Take care that the mulch doesn’t come into direct contact with the stem or trunk of the pyracantha as this can result in root rot.
In warmer regions, however, firethorn will be evergreen.
Because this shrub will tolerate both extreme cold and extreme heat, pyracantha is a popular garden choice, especially as it will provide multi-seasonal interest.
Other Uses for Firethorn
Firethorn berries are eaten by many bird species. It is therefore a good shrub to choose if you want to attract birds to the garden. Birds will have access to a food source during the winter, and the dense evergreen foliage provides both shelter and a potential nesting site.
Firethorn is also resistant to damage by deer.
Types of Firethorn You Can Grow
There are several varieties of firethorn that grow in different parts of the world. The most common species is Pyracantha coccinea which produces bright scarlet-red berries. This is the species that has grown for the longest in cultivation and most widely around the world.
There are dwarf species available. These varieties are ideal for smaller gardens, especially when selecting plants for a low-growing border.
Certain varieties are resistant or semi-resistant to diseases such as blight. P. “Soleil d’Or” and “Red Column” are two such varieties.
It is also possible to select a pyracantha that produces berries that are not red. There are varieties available that produce bright gold-colored berries and others that have vibrant orange or yellow fruits.
P. “Golden Charmer” won’t grow more than 4 meters in height and produces stunning clusters of golden berries.
A variegated variety, P. “Nana” has variegated foliage and bright red berries.
Pyracantha or firethorn is an excellent choice of hedging shrub. It will also cover sloping sites and can be used as a barrier to prevent unwanted visitors.
If you are worried about disease problems, choose one of the disease-resistant varieties available.
Despite its classification as invasive in certain areas, firethorn is not considered to be a high-impact threat to native species.
*image by nahhan/depositphotos