With its intensely glowing berries, Pyracantha is one of the shrubs that continues to add colour to parks and gardens in autumn and throughout the winter. During the cold season, the foliage remains dense and rich green.
There are about ten different species of firethorn (Pyracantha) that can be found in various countries. One of the most commonly planted species here is called scarlet firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea). There are several varieties and hybrids of this species, which mostly differ in the colour of the fruit but also in their susceptibility to disease.
- Pyracantha: bloom, origin and qualities
- The most beautiful firethorn varieties
- How to plant Pyracantha
- Pyracantha care: pruning, fertilising and co.
- Propagating Pyracantha
- Is Pyracantha poisonous?
Pyracantha: bloom, origin and qualities
The evergreen, thorny shrub belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae), whose species are found from south-eastern Europe to south-eastern Asia. The growth of the perennial shrub is densely branched with prickly branches. Depending on the species, it can reach a height of two to six metres, although it can be referred to as a small tree if its height is above five metres. Pyracantha makes an excellent evergreen hedge with added protection from unwanted guests due to its long and sharp thorns.
Its medium sized green and glossy leaves are either alternately arranged or in clusters and are ovate to lanceolate. Depending on the species, the leaf edges can be smooth or serrated. The white, hermaphroditic flowers bloom from spring to early summer on the two-year-old branches in umbrella-shaped clusters. As is typical for the rose family, firethorn flowers are radially symmetric and have five petals. Insects such as bees enjoy Pyracantha‘s rich flowering. The closed bright fruits of the hardy firethorn ripen in autumn. They are round, about the size of a pea, and look like miniature apples. They can be red, orange or yellow and hang in clusters on the shoot tips of the one-year-old wood. The fruits hang on the thorny bush until late winter, when they are eaten by blackbirds and other birds, as they are no longer sour and hard due to the frost.
The most beautiful firethorn varieties
Here are the most beautiful and popular Pyracantha varieties. Above all, the colour of the fruits as well as the different growth heights can vary. The susceptibility of the following cultivars to firethorn scab is classified as very low to low. Moreover, the varieties ˈSoleil d’Orˈ and ˈRed Columnˈ are not particularly susceptible to fire blight.
- Pyracantha coccinea ˈOrange Glowˈ: The firethorn ˈOrange Glowˈ can reach a height of 250 to 350 cm and a width of up to 250 cm. Its enchanting flowers bloom from the end of May to the beginning of July. The fruits are an intense orange-yellow.
- Pyracantha coccinea ˈRed Columnˈ: This variety can reach a height of approximately 200 to 300 cm and a width of up to 250 cm. The flowers which bloom from the end of May to June eventually turn into flaming red fruits that live up to the name of the firethorn.
- Pyracantha coccinea ˈSoleil d’Orˈ: This cultivar can reach a height of about 175 to 225 cm and a width of up to 150 cm. From May to June, it is adorned with white, delicately fragrant flowers that ripen into bright yellow fruits which hang on the shrub until the dead of winter.
How to plant Pyracantha
The firethorn grows best in a sunny location but a lightly semi-shady spot is also fine. The less sunlight the shrubs get, the fewer flowers and fruits they produce. Pyracantha likes well-draining soil that is high in nutrients and humus but otherwise it does not have high requirements. Firethorn looks great as a lone shrub and a dense hedge, as well as a topiary, plus it provides food for both bees and birds. The optimal time to plant firethorn is March to August. Firethorn is usually available to purchase as a container grown shrub. Plant Pyracantha at the same depth as it was in its original pot. To plant Pyracantha as a hedge, plant three plants per metre or two plants if they are large. If you want to plant a firethorn shrub on its own, plant it about 1.5 m away from other plants.
Tip: Firethorn has proven to be effective in bird protection as the thorns prevent predators like cats and martens from climbing into the nest.
Pyracantha in a pot: Firethorn also grows well in pots. Here it is best to choose a rather small-growing variety such as ˈSoleil d’Orˈ. In winter, protect the roots in the pot from very low temperatures to avoid damage. We will explain further down how to best protect firethorn grown in pots.
Pyracantha care: pruning, fertilising and co.
When grown in the right location, this evergreen shrub requires very little care. However, diseases such as fire blight and scab can appear on the plant from time to time. To avoid disease affecting your firethorn, choose a resistant variety, the right location and prune moderately.
Watering and fertilising
Pyracantha only needs small amounts of water as it likes rather dry soils. These shrubs can even withstand long dry periods, but it is necessary to water them during prolonged dry periods.
In spring, feed firethorn with nitrogen fertiliser to help it produce flowers and fruit. The nutrients can either be supplied in the form of mature compost or with a plant-based fertiliser, such as our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food which has a balanced NPK ratio and is ideal for shrubs. Additionally, the high proportion of organic source materials supports soil life.
- Perfect for a variety of plants in the garden & on the balcony
- Promotes healthy plant growth & an active soil life
- Long-lasting fertiliser that is free from animal products - child & pet friendly
How to prune Pyracantha
Firethorn is very tolerant of pruning, so it does not mind being pruned into shape several times a year. Its natural growth habit is characterised by sparse, spreading branches, which are appealing to birds and insects but are not always aesthetically pleasing. Pruning regularly gives the shrub a more compact shape and encourages branching. Pruning in late summer helps to expose the beautiful berries, which will then be hidden quickly again behind newly grown shoots. Pyracantha also tolerates radical pruning but do so in February. Prune back any unwanted branches completely. If an inhabited bird’s nest is discovered in the shrub, be sure to postpone pruning until another time.
Tip: Prune firethorn directly after flowering – this ensures that insects and birds can enjoy the flowers and fruits again next year.
Firethorn is not flowering
The reasons for a lack of flowering or low flowering could be a poor choice of location or excessive pruning. If your firethorn is located in a shady area, it is worth considering moving it to a sunnier spot. As the two-year-old wood bears the most flowers, do not prune back these branches in spring – instead prune immediately after flowering. However, Pyracantha will also flower on short shoots of the perennial wood.
The most effective way to propagate firethorn is with cuttings.
Take cuttings from slightly woody shoots at the end of July to September. Cut off a piece of shoot that is about 15 to 20 cm long and at least 5 mm in diameter. Then remove the soft tip, as well as leaves and thorns growing at the base. To encourage better rooting, dip your Pyracantha cutting in rooting powder. Then place the cutting about 5 cm deep in a pot filled with a substrate mixture of equal parts cutting soil and sand or gravel. Finally, place the pot in a semi-shady spot at 12 to 20 °C and keep it moist. Rooting should take place after about four to six weeks. Once sufficient roots have formed and the plant sprouts well, plant it outdoors.
It is best to use a peat-free substrate for cuttings, such as our Plantura Organic Herb & Seeding Compost. It does not collapse as quickly as peaty soil and is environmentally friendly.
Sowing Pyracantha seeds
It is also possible to propagate firethorn by seed, but it requires a bit more patience. Collect the firethorn seeds in autumn or winter and then macerate them. To macerate the seeds, soak them in water and then rinse them, so that the pulp around the seeds cannot prevent or delay germination. Sow immediately after macerating. Pyracantha seeds need to be exposed to cold temperatures in order to initiate germination. The germination period takes 12 to 18 months.
As firethorn is hardy to at least -20 °C, it does not need any additional protection during the colder seasons. However, if the evergreen shrub is not already in a shady spot, it makes sense to provide shade in winter – because sunny winter days and subsequent frosty temperatures can cause problems for the foliage. The sun stimulates transpiration of the leaves, which can cause damage as a result of much colder temperatures.
In contrast to firethorn planted in the ground, Pyracantha in a pot needs protection. The best way to avoid frost damage is to overwinter the plant in a bright, cold but frost-free location or to place it against a sheltered house wall. You can also cover the pot with Styrofoam and jute bags and cover the soil with leaves.
Is Pyracantha poisonous?
Nearly all parts of the firethorn are considered non-poisonous but inedible. The seeds in the fruits are the only parts which are slightly toxic to humans. Pyracantha is highly poisonous to dogs and cats. Gastrointestinal problems only occur in humans after eating an excessive amount of the raw fruits. In small children, however, mild poisoning can occur more quickly. That being said, if the fruits are cooked and passed through a sieve to remove the seeds, the pulp can be used to make an excellent fruity-sweet spread.
If you now have an even greater desire for colour in your garden, you can find further inspiration in our article on colourful plants during the wintertime.