Pyracantha, or firethorn, is a handsome evergreen shrub with spring flowers and brilliantly colourful autumn berries. Dazzling white flowerheads are borne in early summer, contrasting with the small bright green leaves. In autumn, flowerheads mature to clusters of showy scarlet, orange, or yellow berries. They’re easy to grow on most soils and aspects, making them a great choice for problem spots that are otherwise hard to plant up. Pyracantha can be grown in different ways – either as a shrub, trained on a support – or as a wide pyracantha hedge. Most varieties grow to several metres high but there are some bushy and compact growing varieties too.
Pyracantha is superb for wildlife with flowers that attract pollinating insects – the dense thorny growth makes excellent nesting sites for birds, which also feast on the berries. Red and orange berries are most favoured by birds, yellow is less popular, so it can be worth growing at least a couple of different pyracanthas – one for you to enjoy into the winter and another to feed the birds.
How to grow pyracantha
Grow pyracantha in any reasonable soil anywhere from full sun to full shade. Keep watered until established and feed and mulch annually. Train and tie in shoots of plants growing on walls or fences and prune after flowering.
Where to grow pyracantha
Pyracantha is a versatile shrub. Site at the back of a border or as a single plant in the lawn, to develop into a large bushy shrub. Train against walls and fences, on supports such as trellis or vine eyes and wires. Grow as a prickly intruder-proof hedge where there’s sufficient space to produce bushy growth. Pyracanthas flower and fruit best in a site that gets some sun at least, but still perform well in shade.
How to plant pyracantha
Plant pyracantha in autumn, during mild spells in winter, or early spring. For growing against walls or fences, plant the rootball 30-40cm away and lean the plant onto its support, to avoid the rain shadow at the base. For hedging, space plants 50cm apart in a single row. Plant pyracanthas into well-cultivated soil, with added organic matter and slow-release fertilizer, and with the top of the rootball at soil level. Firm in thoroughly, water in, and keep watered until established. You can also plant pyracanthas in containers for short-term displays.
How to care for pyracantha
On walls and fences, tie in pyracantha shoots regularly, especially when young and cut back any outward-growing shoots once flowering has finished. In late summer, cut back sideshoots to several leaves from the base.
Free-standing pyracanthas need little pruning apart from removing any dead stems or thinning congested growth. Overgrown plants can be renovated by taking out several of the largest branches near to the base, in mid-spring.
Trim hedges after flowering then again in summer if needed to restrict growth.
Mulch with organic matter and apply a general fertilizer annually in late winter/early spring.
How to propagate pyracantha
Take semi-ripe cuttings in late summer, selecting this year’s vigorous shoots that have just started to turn woody.
Growing pyracantha: problem solving
Pyracantha scab is a fungal disease that can affect all parts of the plant. Flowers may shrivel and fail to produce fruits, leaves develop black spots and fall, and berries blacken and shrivel. Collect and bin fallen plant material and prune out infected growth. Grow pyracantha varieties that are resistant to disease.
Fireblight is a bacterial disease that is so called as affected leaves turn reddish brown before dying so the plant looks scorched as if by fire. Flowers shrivel and infected stems may exude a slimy white liquid. This disease is fast-spreading and can affect certain other plants so act quickly by pruning out infected growth, cutting back into healthy wood.
Pyracantha varieties to grow
Pyracantha coccinea ‘Red Cushion’
Valued for its low and spreading growth, Pyracantha coccinea ‘Red Cushion’ is useful for growing at the base of walls or even in pots.
Height x Spread: 1m x 2m
Pyracantha rogersiana ‘Flava’
Pyracantha ‘Flava’ has arching growth with relatively small leaves. It bears a startling profusion of small yellow berries in autumn.
H x S: 3m x 3m
Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’
Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’ is relatively upright and densely branched, making it a great choice for nesting birds. It bears sparkling, scarlet-tinted orange berries in autumn.
H x S: 2m x 2m
Pyracantha ‘Saphyr Jaune’ (‘Cadaune’)
Pyracantha ‘Saphyr Jaune’ bears bright yellow berries with gold tones. Highly disease resistant, like all ‘Saphyr’ varieties.
H x S: 3m x 3m
Pyracantha ‘Saphyr Orange’ (‘Cadange’)
Pyracantha ‘Saphyr Orange’ bears carmine-tinted berries, which mature to brilliant orange, on densely branched plants.
H x S: 3m x 3m