Cotoneasters make useful garden shrubs, ground cover plants and small trees, with most of them growing well in sun and partial shade. They bear a long season of interest thanks to their prolific summer flowers followed by deep red berries, which remain on the plant from autumn through winter. Many species have beautiful autumn foliage.
Cotoneasters are wildlife friendly: their flowers are a magnet for bees and the berries are eaten by birds.
How to grow cotoneasters
Most cotoneasters thrive in moist but well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Some require pruning back after fruiting. Mulch annually with well-rotted manure, compost or leaf mould.
Some cotoneasters are listed as invasive in Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act in England and Wales. Take care when growing them, especially if you live near a waterway or in a rural area. We list them below and recommend considering alternatives to reduce risk of these varieties spreading into wild areas.
Growing cotoneasters: jump links
- Planting cotoneaster
- Caring for cotoneaster
- Propagating cotoneaster
- Growing cotoneaster: problem solving
- Best cotoneasters to grow
Where to grow cotoneaster
Cotoneasters range from border shrubs or small trees, to wall shrubs, with some even used as ground cover to suppress weeds. Choose your variety carefully, depending on your needs. If growing border shrubs or small trees, you may want to grow your cotoneaster at the back of a border or as a feature in its own right, making the most of its winter berries. Make sure you plant it where you have a good view of its winter berries, perhaps from a kitchen window or near your front door. Wall shrubs, such as Cotoneaster horizontalis, should be planted against a wall where you can train it to ‘climb’. Ground cover cotoneasters should be planted towards the front of a border or a bank, where you want to suppress weeds.
Some cotoneasters are listed in Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act in England and Wales. We recommend growing these only if you live in a very urban area, or consider an alternative instead.
How to plant cotoneaster
Cotoneasters thrive in moist but well-drained soil, in full sun to partial shade. The best time to plant a cotoneaster is in autumn, when the soil is still warm from summer but moist enough for the roots to establish before winter sets in. Incorporate organic matter such as well-rotted manure or garden compost, plant the rootball at the same depth it was in the pot, firm with your feet and water well.
How to care for cotoneaster
Cotoneaster is fairly low maintenance. Water well in its first year.
Regular pruning of cotoneaster shrubs helps keep growth dense, with plenty of flowers and berries. Simply prune and reshape evergreen varieties in early spring, and deciduous cotoneasters a bit later on, just before spring growth restarts.
Cotoneasters grown as small trees will need little pruning, except to shape the canopy or remove diseased, crossing branches.
How to propagate cotoneaster
Take softwood cuttings of deciduous cotoneasters or semi-ripe cuttings of evergreen varieties. Use rooting hormone to increase your chances of success.
Growing cotoneaster: problem solving
Cotoneasters are relatively trouble free, but they can be susceptible to the fungal disease fire blight. Sadly, there’s nothing you can do in this situation as it tends to be fatal. Aphids and other insect pests are rarely a problem and provide a good source of food for birds.
Best cotoneasters to grow
Beautiful cotoneaster is a densely branched evergreen shrub, with arching stems and a low-growing habit. Its small, dark green leaves are covered in fine hairs when young, giving them a silvery sheen. White summer flowers are followed by red berries that last well into winter. Native to south-east China, it’s hardy in all but the coldest British winters. Best grown on its own as a shrub.
H x S: 1.5m x 1.5m
Cotoneaster rhytidophyllus is an evergreen cotoneaster, bearing long, pointed leaves with downy felting underneath, on arching stems. In late-spring to summer it bears clusters of white flowers, followed in autumn by orange fruit that ages to red. Hardy throughout most of the British Isles, it’s best grown as a shrub or small tree.
H x S: 2m x 2m
Tibetan cotoneaster is a low-growing, evergreen shrub suitable for growing en masse beneath trees or in hard-to-grow areas, or using as a low hedge. It has small, dark green, glossy oval leaves. In summer masses of tiny, white star-shaped flowers are followed by large, orange-red round berries.
H x S: 1.5m x 2m
Cotoneaster frigidus ‘Cornubia’
Cotoneaster frigidus ‘Cornubia’ is one of the largest cotoneasters available, often forming an enormous bushy shrub but it can also be trained into a standard tree. It bears masses of dense clusters of white flowers in summer, followed by large, vivid red berries in autumn and throughout winter. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
H x S: 6m x 4.5m
Cotoneaster horizontalis is typically grown against a wall or fence, due to the characteristic herringbone pattern of its stems. It grows well in shade, although it flowers and fruits much better in full sun.
Wall spray cotoneaster is listed as invasive in Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act in England and Wales. Take care when growing it, especially if you live near a waterway or in a rural area, or consider another cotoneaster as an alternative.
H x S: 1m x 2m