Pyracantha

Pyracantha, or firethorn as it is also known, is a pretty shrub with attractive flowers and magnificent red, yellow or orange berries in autumn and winter. It is often trained against a wall or fence. It also makes an excellent evergreen hedge.

Pyracantha on a wall. Credit: RHS.

Quick facts

Common name Firethorn
Botanical name Pyracantha
Group Shrubs, hedges
Flowering time Spring to mid-summer
Planting time Anytime, but ideally autumn or winter
Height and spread 4m x 4m (12ft x 12ft)
Aspect Full sun or partial shade
Hardiness Most are fully hardy
Difficulty Easy

Cultivation notes

Pyracantha can be grown as a free-standing shrub (or hedge), or trained against a wall or fence.

Site and soil conditions

Pyracantha is suitable for any moderately fertile garden soil in sun or partial shade, including very dry free-draining soils and heavy clays as long as they are not prone to water-logging. Berrying can be reduced in shady sites, including against north-facing walls. 

Planting

If training Pyracantha along a wall or fence, plant at least 50cm (20in) out from the wall to avoid the dry area at the base.

Before planting add a bucketful of well-rotted organic matter and 70-100g per sq m (2-3oz per sq yd) of balanced general purpose fertiliser to the soil. Adding organic matter or fertiliser to the planting hole is not recommended.

Allow 1.5–3m (5-10ft) between specimen plants, but 50cm (20in) is fine between hedging plants.

Watering and feeding

Watering is required to help the plant establish in its first couple of years after planting. After this establishment period, watering is very seldom required. Wall-trained specimens may need watering every 10 days in dry spells.

Feed annually, in late winter, with 70-100g per sq m (2-3 oz per sq yd) of balanced general purpose fertiliser followed by a 5-8cm (2-3in) thick mulch of well-rotted organic matter.

Pruning and training

Pyracantha flowers mainly on shoots produced the previous year. So when pruning try to retain as much two-year-old wood as possible.

Wear thick gloves when pruning; firethorn, as the common name of Pyracantha suggests, bears long and very sharp thorns.

Prune out shoots badly affected by Pyracantha scab. These are easy to spot as the leaves and often the berries too will be covered in unsightly black scabs.

Pyracantha usually responds reliably to very heavy pruning when overgrown plants need to be renovated.

Free-standing shrubs

Free-standing shrubs merely need unwanted, damaged or diseased shoots removed. 

Wall–trained shrubs

Pyracantha can be trained against a wall. See our advice on pruning climbers and wall shrubs on first planting for more information on how to establish a wall-trained plant.

Pyracantha can also be trained as an espalier. See our advice in espalier training trees for more on this technique.

In general, prune to make the berries more visible and to keep the plants in shape. Shorten all sideshoots that arise from the main framework branches in late summer, stopping just short of the clusters of berries (usually about two to three leaves from the base of the side shoot).

If you need to extend the plants, tie new leafy shoots into wires or trellis. While the shoots are still flexible they can be trained to frame doors or windows.

Hedges

Trim Pyracantha hedges two or three times between spring and the end of summer. Aim to retain as many berries as possible but some will no doubt be lost as you strive to keep the outline.

Propagation

Pyracantha can be propagated from cuttings (easy) or seed. Pyracantha seed requires three months of cold stratification in order to germinate. Cultivars won't usually come true from seed. See the links below for details.

Links

Cuttings: semi-ripe
Cuttings: hardwood
Trees and shrubs from seed

Cultivar Selection

Pyracantha 'Orange Glow' AGM: Purple-black stems, orange-red fruits, smaller than some (2.7m/9ft tall).
Pyracantha rogersiana AGM: Orange-red fruits, good for shaded walls.
Pyracantha 'Flava' AGM: Yellow fruits, weeping habit.

Links

RHS Plant Finder
RHS Plant Selector
AGM Plants

Problems

Pyracantha can suffer from the diseases pyracantha scab and fireblight. It can also be attacked by pyracantha leaf-mining moth and woolly aphid pests.

Lack of berries can be caused by:

  • Pruning too much: Wall-trained plants need an annual haircut with shears to be really neat. However this can slice off the flowers and hence berries. If berries are needed, don’t clip the entire plant - just shorten back the sideshoots in mid-summer as described above.
  • Poor pollination: This can occur in cold spring weather, particularly where plants are being grown in open situations exposed to strong winds, which can deter insects. It can also occur if plants flower during a wet period, when pollinating insects such as bees are not active.
  • Drought: This often occurs against a sunny wall in a dry border and can result in premature berry-drop even though pollination has been successful. Water thoroughly at 10-day intervals in dry conditions until the berries colour up in late summer.  
  • Lack of feeding: Potassium (potash) encourages flowering and fruiting. Apply sulphate of potash at 30g per sq m (1oz per sq yd), tomato fertiliser, or comfrey pellets in early spring to an area extending at least 1m (3ft) beyond the branch spread.
  • Lack of vigour: Plants making only thin, weak, annual growth may remain without berries. Check that the growing conditions are suitable and the plant is not suffering from pest or disease affecting its vigour.
  • Frost: Late spring frosts can damage flowers, destroying the plant’s ability to produce fruit or berries. Flowers may appear undamaged until examined closely.

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