Firethorn

A well-planned landscape provides interest all year. To add a pop of color to your winter garden, try planting firethorn.

Firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea) is an evergreen shrub known for the colorful berries it produces in cooler weather. Not only are they attractive, the berries also serve as an important food source for wildlife. The branches hold up well in cut arrangements and make a festive accent in holiday centerpieces.

Characteristics

Firethorn, also commonly called pyracantha, adds visual interest to your landscape throughout much of the year. In spring, it produces many clusters of small white flowers, followed by a huge fall/winter crop of red, orange, or yellow berries which are consumed by resident and migrating birds alike.

This thorny shrub has a number of uses in your landscape. It can be trained as an espalier against a wall, allowed to sprawl unpruned down a slope, or even shaped into a topiary. You can also use its thorns to your advantage by planting it as a barrier.

Planting and Care

Firethorn performs best in north and central parts of Florida, and will thrive when planted in well-drained soil and full sun.

This fast-grower will need regular pruning to keep it the size you want it—just watch out for the thorns. Unpruned, it can grow up to 20 feet; however, cultivars are available that are more compact and require less pruning. ‘Red Elf’ is a disease-resistant, compact shrub that only reaches about 2 feet tall and wide. ‘Lowboy’ has a low, spreading habit and bright orange fall fruits. Its arching and spreading branches cover a lot of ground, making it an effective bank cover.

While relatively drought tolerant, your firethorn will grow best when watered during dry times. Apply a general garden fertilizer once each month in March, June, and September. Under bright sunny conditions the berries are plentiful but expect smaller crops in shadier situations. The color of both leaves and berries tends to be darker in cooler climates.

Firethorn is the principal host of the hawthorn lace bug in Florida; to stay ahead of a potential pest problem, examine your plants frequently from spring through fall. It's also susceptible to mushroom root rot and, like other members of the Rosaceae family, fireblight.

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