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Pyracantha is an evergreen, garden shrub from the rose family that bears clusters of tiny white flowers in summer, that turn into colourful berries come the autumn and winter. The traditional variety has dark green, glossy leaves and bright red berries , and while there are a number of other types that have berries in shades or orangey yellow or orange, personally I think the original variety is the most attractive.
The plant develops increasingly woody stems with age and has attractive, glossy red-brown bark (though this isn't usually particularly visible through the foliage). In amongst the foliage, you soon discover it is covered with thin, very sharp thorns - which brings us to perhaps the first of its main (if not unique) selling points. Pyracantha has an upright growth habit, and can be trained into bush shapes to make a thorny hedge (if you have enough of the plants to 'join up' to make a barrier) as well as to grow flat up against the wall of a house. I understand that it is occasionally considered for 'defensive planting' as deterrent for burglars in this context. One of the stone-built terraced cottages near us stands out from its neighbours as it has a large and spectacular Pyracantha trained against the front wall. The plant covers at least two thirds of the frontage of the property, and has grown up all round the windows and doors - the door and window shapes are neatly pruned out of the dense foliage, which is up to a foot thick in places. I'm not sure if a wall-covering Pyracntha like this needs additional support but suspect it wouldn't, due to the robustness of the upright stems.
Pyracantha plants are usually available at garden centres, and at certain times of year you can quite often find small plants selling for the £3 to £4 at supermarkets (the local Tesco and Morrison's were both selling them last year). I got a number of them severely marked down in price at the Homebase garden store a winter or two ago, when the plants weren't looking their best. I intended to train these against one of the many unsightly walls we have abutting our garden to camouflage it, but because they didn't all survive, have ended up with only a couple of 'specimen' plants. Despite their root-bound, not brilliant start in life, these are growing quite well - although unfortunately, they're not exactly fast-growing plants. The ones I've got started off a couple of feet high and about two years later are still much the same height - although they've grown outwards quite well since then.
Pyracantha occasionally crops up growing on waste ground - when in its 'free' state, not being pruned back or trained against a wall or anything, it has an thin and spiky, upright growth habit. The plant doesn't seem too fussy about soil richness, as I have seen it growing quite happily on soil that's largely composed of little rocks or broken up hard-standing. Presumably the plant's berries, which are eaten by garden birds and excreted in the droppings onto wasteland, germinate there to produce these outlying bushes. So the plant also is useful if you're interested in wildlife gardening, as not only would the dense evergreen foliage of a mature Pyracantha plant produce good shelter for garden birds (as well as nesting sites), but the berries are food for them too!
Pyracantha alias Firethorn. Excellent for defensive purposes against intruders. Can grow to 3metres or more if against a wall otherwise to about 2.5metres in open space. Has berries in various colours - red, orange and yellow. Thorns are quite lethal as they grow to lenghts in excess of 30mm and do not break off as in the case of bramble for example, the thorn is actually part of the stem. Wear thick leather gloves when handling. If you want it for protection, do not prune. Can be propagated easily from cuttings in pots over winter. Any questions about this or other plants/shrubs contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here's a shrub that grows in almost any garden without needing much work, that changes its appearance according to the seasons, but always looks good.
Here are eight reasons for including a Firethorn (aka Pyracantha) in your garden.
1. BEAUTY ALL YEAR ROUND
Unlike most shrubs, Pyracantha is an evergreen; she (I think of her as a lady) won't shed her leaves in the cold season. When other shrubs look naked and bare, Pyracantha still wears an abundance of small dark green leaves.
In addition, Pyracantha adorns herself with gorgeous jewellery of gold and ruby. From October to January, Pyracantha is covered all over with bead-like berries in either red, orange or red. They bring colour to the garden and brighten up the winter goom
In early summer, Pyracantha has small, but very pretty, white flowers.
2. EASY TO GROW
Pyracantha is one of those plants that need very little attention and flourish even under *your* care and in *your* garden. ;-) . this shrub is tough, hardy, and forgiving.
3. WILDLIFE LOVE IT
Birds especially appreciate Pyracantha shrubs. To them, the red berries are a delicacy, especially in winter, when the ground is frozen, and other food is hard to come by.
Note, however, that gourmet birds are picky and have their favourites. Most prefer red pyracantha berries. They'll eat the orange ones next, and the yellow ones only when they're really hungry.
You may want to consider this when choosing your firethorn variety.
Insects appreciate the flowers.
3. KEEPS INTRUDERS OUT
It would be a very brave burglar climbing over a firethorn hedge or up a fire-thorn-clad facade, even with protective clothing on. And it looks so much more attractive than barbed wire, especially since the thorns are covered by leaves all year round. A solid hedge of pricklies is a great burglar deterrant.
Some people say you can keep squirrels and neighbour's cats out. But in my experience, cats and squirrels are far too wily to be deterred by anything. They don't like the thorns, but if they want to get in somewhere, they will find a way.
However, you can use your prunings to protect your springbulbs. If the tulips and daffodils you planted in autumn don't come up in spring, it's probably because the squirrels - those wily buggers - have dug them out and munched them. Squirrels are gourmets, too, with a remarked taste for rare and expensive bulbs.
Prunings from thorny shrubs like the firethorn are, in my experience, the best squirrel deterrant. I simply stick a few thorny sticks into the gorund between the newly planted bulbs, lay lots of thorny sticks on the surface, add some prickly holly leaves for good measure, and the squirrels leave them alone. Apparently the thorns hurt their tender paws.
4. GROWS ANYWHERE
Firethorn doesn't mind clay soil, sandy soil, poor soil, frequent frosts, icy winters, strong winds or partial shade.
Chances are, the shrub will grow in your garden, although it wants some sun at least for part of the day.
5. FLEXIBLE USE
A pyracantha will look great as a single shrub (a 'specimen' in garden designer jargon), in groups, in mixed hedges, in pyracantha-only hedges, along a fence or up a wall.
Indeed, it is - at least in my opinion - the most spectacular plant to train up a house facade, especially if you choose one red and one yellow next to each other.
Of course there are other spectacular looking climbers, but most of them look great for only part of the year. A Pyracantha is always a beauty.
I just love it how a red and a yellow Pyracantha next to each other enhance each other's power.
I'm currently growing a wildlife hedge all the way around my garden. One section will be mostly red and yellow Pyracantha. Unfortunately, the plants are still very low, so I cannot show you a photo of its glory yet.
6. QUICK GROWING
Of course, 'quick' is relative. It won't grow as fast as the dreaded Leylandii cypress, and it will never grow higher than 4 metres, so it won't develop into a monster. Even if you neglect it for some years, you can still catch up with the pruning.
It will take several years from seed to mature shrub, but you can cut this process short by buying a well established plant.
If you want just one plant, then a visit to your local garden centre is in order, where you can ponder the choices over a cup of tea in the cafe. But garden centres are simply too expensive if you want enough plants for a hedge.
Specialist tree&shrub nurseries are much better; they sell the plants as bundles.
The cheapest option is to buy the plants online. I purchased mine for, on average, £1 each at Ebay, though those are quite small plants.
Bigger plants are available (for a little more money, but still much cheaper than at a garden centre), from online specialist mail order nurseries.
Regrettably, Ciao rules don't allow me to give web addresses/links.
However, these specialist shrub online mail order nurseries advertise in the classified sections of the glossy monthly gardening magazines. You may have seen them, advertisements printed in such small print that they are hard to read, with just a list of plant names and a prices.
They all give a web address, so you can go there; their websites are easier to read than their magazine advertisements.
They're only good if you know what you want (and in this case, you do), and if you want to buy in bulk (10 or more plants of the same kind).
The prices quoted are usually per 10 plants, and may or may not include postage. If postage is extra, it is usually around £6-£8, and remains the same regardless of how many plants you buy.
So if you order, say, 10 yellow-berried Pyracantha, 10 red-berried pyracantha, and at the same time 10 pink hedging roses and 10 hawthorn, the bargain can work out extremely cheap.
If buying by mail order, by them bare-rooted or rootballed, not in pots; otherwise you'll pay for the postage of a pot full of garden soil. The mail order nurseries I refer to all use the root-balled and/or bare-rooted method. Late autumn to spring is the best time for buying and planting shrubs, including Pyracantha.
IF buying by mail order, buy them bare-rooted or rootballed, not in pots; otherwise you'll pay for the postage of a pot full of garden soil.
8. LITTLE OR NO PRUNING REQUIRED
Just cut them when they grow to high, and remove dead or diseased branches.
By the way, it doesn't matter much *when* you prune them. Some books say late winter/early spring, others recommend summer. In my experience, the plants don't mind. (They probably haven't read the textbooks)
The drawbacks are few, unless you're a burglar or a squirrel.
1. There's one disease that can damage and kill Pyracantha, the so called 'fireblight'. However, some cultivars are resistent to this disease. Try 'Mohave' (I think it's the same that's sometimes spelled 'Mojave', 'Shawnee' or 'Teton'.
2. Pyracantha, especially hedges of it, can look out of place in a very formal garden design. It looks best in informal gardens ('informal' is the positive way of saying 'hodgepodge mishmash untidy and neglected but nevertheless lovely').
3. Although it grows fast compared with other shrubs, it still takes some years to form a really good hedge. (I have to wait at least another couple of years before my 'Soleil d'Or' and 'Mohave Red' turn into a spectacular berrying hedge)
4. Growing them from seeds or cuttings is a slow, fiddly process. Possible, yes - and I'm doing it - but you need to be a real enthusiast with lots of patience.
5. They are prickly! When pruning, best wear stout gloves, or you'll hurt yourself.
6. The berries aren't actually edible for humans. (You or your children won't die from accidentally swallowing a few, but their flavour isn't tempting, but if you eat lots, you'll get a stomach upset. n.b. I have not eaten large enough quantities to review the stomach upset)
MY LATEST SURPRISE
In November, I purchased a few tiny plants cheaply from an Ebay seller; several varieties that I hadn't grown before. He recommended that I keep them 'under glass' for their first winter. So I put half of them in my unheated greenhouse; the others I placed temporarily on the sunny windowsill of my living room.
The ones in the cold greenhouse are behaving like pyracanthas should behave in the cold season: they stay green, but don't grow much. The ones on the windowsill, however, have gone ballistic!
Within two months, they quadrupled in size, and they are in full flower now, in January! All my visitors admire this new 'flowering houseplant' and want to know what it is. Alas, if it keeps growing like that, I won't be able to keep it on the windowsill for much longer. As soon as the cold season is over, I'll move them to their permanent residence in the berry hedge.
Need to cover a north facing fence or wall? Have other climbers withered and died in the shade and cold? This plant will suit you down to the ground. Pyracantha, often refered to as 'Firethorn', is a grow-anywhere shrub. It is most effective when grown as a climber using either a sturdy trellis or supporting wires. This is a thorny, evergreen plant and bears small, sometimes insignificant, flowers followed by vivid berries which last well into the following summer. It is available in varying shades of foilage, even a variegated green and cream. The berries also vary between orange and red. Whilst it is not as vigorous as some climbers it is still relatively quick to cover a wall. For instance the specimen I have grown was bought whilst just 18" tall. Two years on and it it is over 5' high and 4' wide. I expect it to reach about 12' by 12' before it stops. The biggest advantage of this plant though is that it will flourish in heavy shade or brilliant sunshine and in just about any kind of soil. Training: I have used a narrow trellis about 6' high and 1' wide to tie the main stem to. From either side of this I have run horizontal guide wires at spacings of about 1'. The plant is growing between my front door and front window and the wires are laid out to bring the plant under the window and eventually over both the window and door. As the plant is not too vigorous I only have to trim and tie it twice a year, usually Spring and Autumn. During the trimming I prune back and forward facing shoots that cannot be bent sideways and tied in, this is to prevent the plant from directing too much energy in a the wrong direction. In about five years I expect to have it just as I want, around the window and door, and it will just need the occasional trim.