Growing and caring for Pyracantha (firethorn)
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Pyracantha is also known as firethorn for its brilliant flame-coloured berries. It’s a hardy shrub that’s easy to grow and look after, and it’s actually one of my favourite shrubs. You can use it as a stand-alone shrub, as a hedge or train it to grow up a wall or trellis. I cover all of this here and tell you how about caring for pyracantha in most gardens.
Pyracantha is a shrub with prickly leaves that grows to about 4m by 4m in size. It flowers in spring through to mid-summer, and these flowers are followed by bright berries in the autumn in gorgeous flame colours of red or orange and even yellow. Most varieties of pyracantha are hardy, so you don’t have to worry about how they handle the winter months. Popular varieties include Pyracantha ‘Red Column’, Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’, and Pyracantha ‘Mohave’.
The best soil for pyracantha
Care for pyracantha starts with the soil. Pyracantha is tolerant of most soil types – clay, sand, loam and so on – on one condition: that the soil is not water-logged. Well-drained soil is essential to their good health and they even tolerate soils that are on the dry side. They do prefer fertile and moist soil, however.
Whatever soil you choose to plant your pyracantha in, just make sure that it drains well. If the soil clumps together and retains water, care for your pyracantha by adding some perlite of horticultural gravel to loosen the soil and let the water run more freely through it.
Growing them in pots
If you grow them in pots, I recommend using a John Innes potting compost as its soil base, free-draining and retains moisture well.
Plant in full sun
Pyracantha plants prefer sites that are in full sun. They do their best there and produce heavy crops of berries. While they do survive in partial shade, including north-facing walls, you don’t get as many berries, but they can still thrive.
Give them space to grow
Your pyracantha plant does well by itself, with others or against a structure, they really are very versatile. When it comes to spacing, remember that it does spread out to 4m in width, so leave lots of room around it for its growth. Leave 1.5m to 3m between individual plants.
Now if your planting a hedge, plant them 50-60cm apart. This encourages them to grow into each other and produce a dense hedge. And if you’re training the plant up a wall or a trellis, position the plant at least 50cm out from the base of the wall or structure. This is so you don’t have the pyracantha roots in the dry ground at the base of the wall.
How to plant pyracantha
Prepare the soil by adding some organic compost and general-purpose fertiliser. Then dig this in well with a garden fork. The goal here is to mix the compost and fertiliser in thoroughly and not leave them as a layer at the bottom of the hole. Optionally, also add a small amount of bone meal to encourage new root growth.
Dig a hole and place the pyracantha plant in it. Be careful to plant the shrub to the same depth it was originally planted in its pot. Planting it deeper, that is, further up the stem, can damage the plant.
Backfill around the roots, tamping down the soil firmly but no hard.
Water the plant in thoroughly. Make sure that excess water is draining away.
Note: If you’re planting pyracantha to train up a structure, consider running steel wires vertically up the structure for the plant to grow up. Tie the plant to the wires with cable ties but not too tightly. (Recheck them every year.) Alternatively, attach a trellis to the structure for the pyracantha to climb up. Pyracantha itself isn;t a climbing plant so needs to be artificially attached to the support.
Caring for your pyracantha involves knowing when to water the plant. It’s important to water your pyracantha regularly after you’ve planted it. Don’t let it dry out, as this stresses the plant and may cause the leaves to fall off, and flowers and berries to not develop. Incorrect pruning can also cause this. It takes 12 months for the plant to establish itself, so be dutiful with your watering schedule during this time, especially in dry spells. The most stressful for the plant is a cycle of watering it well, then letting it dry out then watering it again.
Once the pyracantha is well established, you won’t need to water it often, maybe just during long periods of drought. But remember that any plants that you grow against a support such as a wall get more (reflected) heat, and so need watering more often.
Pyracantha are hardy plants and don’t need much extra feeding. I recommend covering the soil around the plant in winter with a thick layer of well-rotted manure or mulch. This puts nutrients into the soil, keeps the soil warm and protects the roots from ground frost and finally helps retain moisture. In addition, feed your plant once a year in the early spring with a balanced general-purpose fertiliser to encourage new growth.
Keeping your plant tidy plays a large part in care for pyracantha. Pyracantha are quite headstrong in their growth, and it’s best to prune them to keep them in check, but if you do this wrong or at the wrong time of year, you can remove the flowering growth and get no flowers the following year. See my article How to prune pyracantha for all the details on when and how to do this properly.
Dealing with pests and diseases
Only a few pests bother pyracantha plants, these include aphids, woolly aphids and leaf miners. In addition, these plants are susceptible to only a few diseases, with the worst being Pyracantha blight and Pyracnatha scab, both of which need treating as soon as you notice it. I cover how to identify and treat these in my Pyracantha pests and diseases guide here.
I also have a guide on why pyracantha drop their leaves here, as well as how to revive a dying pyracantha.
Some pyracantha varieties to choose I recommend
- Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’: This variety produces bright orange berries in the fall, which contrast nicely with its deep green foliage.
- Pyracantha ‘Mohave’: Known for its particularly thorny branches, ‘Mohave’ produces clusters of bright red berries and has a more compact growth habit than some other varieties.
- Pyracantha ‘Soleil d’Or’: A French cultivar, ‘Soleil d’Or’ produces yellow berries and has a more upright, columnar growth habit than other pyracantha varieties.
- Pyracantha ‘Santa Cruz’: This variety is prized for its abundant clusters of bright red berries, which persist well into the winter.
- Pyracantha ‘Teton’: With dark green foliage and bright red berries, ‘Teton’ is a popular pyracantha variety that is particularly resistant to fire blight and other diseases.
One of the most common questions I get asked is why they sometimes don’t flower or get berries. Yes you guessed it, I have a guide on this here.