“ Cotoneaster horizontalis is one of our most popular shrubs. Small glossy green leaves that turn deep red in autumn are borne on short branches in a distinctive herringbone pattern. A mass of tiny bee-friendly pink and white flowers appears in spring, followed by red berries. A low, spreading shrub good for below windows that will also grow down banks and up walls. Small hardy deciduous shrub. Plant in any soil in full sun or partial shade. RHS Award of Garden Merit. „
As we move into autumn the emphasis in the garden moves away from the floral and concentrates much more on the architectural qualities of plants, their leaf colour and their fruits or berries. The berries certainly ensure that there is colour in the garden during the dark winter months as well as providing much needed food for the birds.
The choice of berry-bearing shrubs for British gardeners is huge but the ones which provide all year round interest are less numerous. One of my favourite shrubs which offers a different side of itself for every season is the cotoneaster and, more particularly, cotoneaster horizontalis. For sheer versatility, this shrub is pretty hard to beat. The picture shown here doesn't really show cotoneaster to its best advantage.
Cotoneaster is a member of the rosaceae family which includes pyracantha, hawthorns and the like.
A plant for all seasons
Like so many other shrubs, cotoneasters originate from the Far East but have adapted so well to our temperate climate and become such a familiar sight in British gardens that one could be forgiven for thinking them a native shrub. In fact, their success is such that they've been added to the list of undesirable aliens and it's now a criminal offence to plant this shrub in the wild. Personally, I've found that there's absolutely no need to plant this anywhere as it manages to do that very easily all on its own, or rather with the help of the birds.
Cotoneaster horizontalis is a deciduous shrub but its herringbone patterned branches form lovely arching shapes and when the leaves appear in spring they are very tiny, glossy ovals which still allow the beauty of its form to be seen. Late spring sees a profusion of tiny pink or white flowers forming and the bees absolutely love them. As the autumn approaches, the berries begin to form but these aren't immediately noticeable because the leaves begin to turn a beautiful fiery red and it isn't until the leaves fall that the berries come into their own, appearing as bright red dots of colour all along the herringbone branches.
Although the Latin name is cotoneaster horizontalis, it could equally well be called cotoneaster verticularis because when planted against a wall, the branches, which naturally trail without support, then fan out against the brickwork allowing the shrub to display itself to best advantage. Horizontally or vertically though this plant is pretty spectacular.
Cultivation and care
This is my favourite kind of garden plant because it requires absolutely no assistance to grow. If planted against a sunny wall, it will gradually cover the surface with its arching branches. Most gardening books quote its height and spread as being around 2 meters and though my own cotoneasters haven't yet reached anywhere near that size, as they're fairly slow growing shrubs, the parent plant which comes from the garden of my family home in Lancashire is well over that size. That plant, however, has been growing against the side of the house for the last 80 years and shows no signs of stopping!
As cotoneaster is a very drought tolerant shrub, it can survive long dry spells of weather (if you can remember what one of those is like) but even in wet weather, this shrub will perform well, although it's best to plant it in a fairly well drained soil. It isn't fussy about the quality of soil in which it grows either and will happily romp away in very inferior, stony ground such as is often found at the foot of a wall.
Not only will this cotoneaster thrive on a sunny south facing wall, it isn't too particular about aspect and can happily grow equally well when in a north, east, or west facing aspect. The plant admittedly does best in full sun so if planted in a north facing position, the chances are that the number of flowers and berries will be fewer but it will still put on quite a show.
There isn't any need to prune this shrub other than if it gets too bit for its space. If you do need to cut it back, it can take a pretty hard pruning without any ill effects.
Just like its care and cultivation, cotoneaster will very happily propagate itself. Wherever one of its branches touch the soil, it will produce roots and it's easy to separate from the parent plant and pot up to grow on or even just plant somewhere else in the garden. Not that this shrub requires any help with propagation but the birds are willing accomplices when it comes to reproduction. Just as the bees love cotoneaster's little flowers, so the birds love its berries. The way this method of propagation works is that the bird eats the berry but can't digest the hard seed at the centre of each fruit so this gets excreted here, there and everywhere, and you'll find cotoneasters popping up in every little nook and cranny in your garden. When the plantlets are tiny, they are very simple to weed out or transplant to other areas of the garden. If you'd rather not rely on the birds, it's easy enough to pop a couple of berries into a pot of compost and leave it to do their thing over winter in a quiet corner of the garden.
I've had to look this up on the RHS website because neither the parent plant nor my own plants have had any problems with pests or diseases. The RHS website says that cotoneaster can be prone to fireblight which is a bacterial disease which can affect plants in the rosaceae family. This can be dealt with by cutting back the infected areas.
Pests which can attack cotoneaster include moths and woolly aphids and brownscale, all of which can be dealt with either by chemicals or organically.
The pros and cons of the cotoneaster horizontalis
Easy to cultivate requiring little or no attention
Very drought tolerant
Easy to propagate
Has all year round interest
It's fairly slow growing, taking up to 20 years to reach its full height and spread
Easy propagation means that it will pop up in unwanted areas of the garden.
Where to buy
This shrub is widely available online with pot grown plants retailing for around £5 or if you want to grown your own, packs of seeds retail at approximately £2 for 20 seeds.