PYRACANTHA (FIRETHORN)


Pyracantha originate from Southern Europe (Mediterranean areas in particular) spreading eastwards into Asia. They are equally at home in high daytime temperatures and low night time ones. Their flowers and berries make them stand out as exceptional ornamental plants in small and large gardens. Their dense growth, combined with vicious thorns also make them ideal hedging plants. Even the most determined intruder would not wish to cross a fully grown Pyracantha!

This article should answer all your questions about choosing and caring for pyracantha. Occasionally however our readers have very specific questions about this shrub. So if up can't find the answer to your question on this page then check out our "question and answer" page dedicated to pyracantha. It can be found here.

They have been popular plants in gardens for centuries and remain so for very good reasons.

Pyracantha, 3 year ols in May
Three year old pyracantha in May

Use the checklist below to decide if a Pyracantha is suited to your preferences and garden conditions:

HOW TO PLANT A NEW PYRACANTHA


Follow the steps below to ensure your Pyracantha is planted correctly and in the best position:

If you want to grow Pyracantha as a dense hedge, individual plants should be about 60cm / 2ft apart.

CARE OF PYRACANTHA


Pyracantha are long-lived shrubs and the only care required after they are established is to prune them (see section below). They are naturally deep rooted an will search out moisture well below the soil surface. On poor soils a couple of handfuls of blood, fish and bone per plant in April time will help feed the finer roots near the soil surface.

For younger plants up to two years old, water if conditions become dry. A twice yearly feed with blood, fish and bone in spring and autumn will help it to establish a good root system. Keep the area around the base of the plant free from weeds and grass.

HOW AND WHEN TO PRUNE PYRACANTHA


The frequency of pruning depends on the shape and size you want the plant to grow to. Without pruning, Pyracantha will grow quite happily and form a bush sized about 4m / 13ft. 

For those of you who prefer a smaller shrub then pruning is more a matter of when to prune rather than how. If pyracantha are pruned at the wrong time of year they will fail to flower and will not produce many berries the next year.

Pyracantha produce most of their new stems in spring but these will not flower or produce berries in that first year, they flower and produce berries in the next year. Combine that piece of information with the fact that a stem will produce flowers and berries along almost its entire length and you are in possession of the key facts behind pruning a pyracantha.

Pyracantha pruned as a column
Image copyright notice
Pyracantha pruned as a column

For the first two to three years after planting a new pyracantha, let it fill out and don't prune it. This will help it establish a good root system.

In the third or fourth year start pruning it as follows:

Remember the basic pruning principles identified at the beginning of this section and then combine them with the steps explained above. Refine the pruning process to suit the growing conditions of your particular pyracantha.

If you have an overgrown, wild or out of control Pyracantha, remember they are tough shrubs and will survive hard pruning at most times of the year. Cutting the plant down by a half is fine. March to October is as good a time as any.

The flowers and berries will no doubt not be as good in the year of pruning but will improve by the next year. Be careful when you prune it, falling stems can damage you with their vicious thorns.

GROWING PYRACANTHA IN CONTAINERS


A single Pyracantha will grow very happily in a large container. A diameter of 45cm or more is about right. Fill with either standard multi-purpose compost or a John Innes type loam. 

A container grown pyracantha should be fed monthly between mid March to mid August with a handful of blood, fish and bone. It will of course require regular watering. Wait each time until the top 3cm of the compost is dry and then water well.

Pruning is as described above although you may to prune more frequently to keep the plant to shape and an appropriate size for the container. It does help if the shrub is in a heavy container to avoid it easily being blown over.

PESTS AND DISEASES OF PYRACANTHA


Pyracantha can suffer from two main diseases, scab and fireblight, both are described below. If you are choosing a new pyracantha our strong advice would be to select one from the 'Saphyr' series which show significant resistance to both diseases.


SCAB


Scab is a fungal disease which causes black marks on the leaves and berries of pyracantha. It also damages the flowers although this is often not so visible. The life cycle of Pyracantha Scab is described below.

SUMMER
The initial infection normally occurs in summer but the effects are not particularly noticeable in the first year.

AUTUMN / WINTER
In first autumn and winter the infected leaves fall to the ground and the fungus overwinters overwinter.

SPRING
In Spring spores are released from the fallen leaves and they spread to new leaves both on the wind and via water splashing. Secondary spores are release in late spring which causes further infection. The higher the humidity and temperature the quicker the spores are released and the more damage they can cause.

AUTUMN / WINTER
The damage becomes apparent in mid summer to winter on leaves and berries. The cycle repeats itself with more vigour if not treated.

The first preventative measure is to plant scab resistant varieties such as the 'Saphyr' series to prevent the problem occurring in the first place. The next preventative measure is to clear up and burn fallen leaves during the year, especially in autumn.

Several fungicide sprays were available in the UK prior to 2016 but these are no longer considered safe and should have been withdrawn from sale in November 2015.

FIREBLIGHT


Fireblight is a bacterial infection which causes the same symptoms as described above for scab. The key noticeable difference is that fireblight of pyracantha appears far quicker than the symptoms of scab and they are worse in severity.

See our page dedicated to identifying and treating fireblight here. It's also important to understand that infections of fireblight can be transferred to pyracantha from and to many other common plants such as apples, pears and hawthorn.

BEST VARIETIES OF PYRACANTHA


Because of the difficulty in treating scab and fireblight we strongly recommend the 'Saphyr' series of pyracantha. They offer the same qualities as regular varieties but were bred in France to offer good resistance to both diseases.

Three varieties are commonly sold, those with red, orange or yellow berries. When young it is very difficult to distinguish between regular varieties and the resistant varieties. We suggest therefore you buy from a reputable supplier in order to avoid disappointment in later years. The resistant varieties cost a couple of pounds more to buy but they are well worth it in the long term.

We recommend Crocus online plants nursery, click on the link below to see their selection of disease resistant Pyracanthas.

Top value Pyracantha plants

PYRACANTHA SUMMARY


Below we list the key strengths and weaknesses of Pyracantha.
 
HARDY 5 star hardiness rating(to -18°C)
   
CLAY SOIL Yes
SANDY SOIL Yes 
   
DRY SOIL Yes
   
SHADE Yes, partial, full sun
   
EVERGREEN Yes
   
EASY CARE 4.5 easy care rating
SMALL GARDENS Yes
   
POT / CONTAINER Yes
   
FLOWERING 4 star flowering rating
   
FLOWER TIME May to June

COMMENTS / QUESTIONS LEFT BY OUR READERS

We have moved the Pyracantha comments and questions section to its own page which can be visited by clicking here. On that page you can view all the previously asked questions / answers / comments and also ask any new questions of your own.

The questions and answers page contains a huge amount of information about pyracantha including specific pest and diseases, planting and care.