The firethorn shrub (Pyracantha coccinea) is known for its beautiful red berry clusters and year-round interest. The display starts in the spring and summer with the development of small, white flowers. These flowers produce the firethorn’s famous red berries in the fall. The berries last all winter and attract a wide array of birds. The shrub’s dense growing habit also provides a great place for birds to nest.
As a member of the rose family, the firethorn shrub has thorns similar to those found on a rose bush. These shrubs can be planted in the spring or fall and are very fast growers. They are evergreen in warm climates and semi-evergreen in colder climates.
|Botanical Name||Pyracantha coccinea|
|Mature Size||8-18 ft. tall, 8-20 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Sandy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral, alkaline|
|Hardiness Zones||6-9, USA|
|Native Area||Europe, Asia|
Firethorn is one tough shrub that does not require much attention once established. These shrubs are versatile and can be grown in containers, trained up trellises, or used as hedges. They thrive in full sun and sandy, well-draining soil. Although they are quite hardy, firethorn shrubs may struggle with fireblight, scab, and aphids.
Because of their rapid growth, firethorn has the potential to choke out native flora. Though the impacts of this plant are not listed as a large threat, firethorn is recognized as a problem in California, Texas, and parts of the deep south and is classified as invasive in California, Georgia and Virginia.
Firethorn can be grown in full or partial sun. However, those grown in full sun will produce more berries than those grown in partial sun.
The firethorn shrub is not very particular when it comes to soil types, but it does best in sandy, well-draining soils. It is tolerant of a wide range of pH levels.
The firethorn does not require large amounts of water, though young plants will appreciate supplemental water as they establish. Water these shrubs weekly with a deep watering. Once these shrubs are established, they are drought-resistant and should not require supplemental water unless they are experiencing a very dry, hot period.
Temperature and Humidity
Firethorn is a hardy shrub and can handle a wide range of temperatures and climates, from freezing cold to high heat. They can be grown in zones 6 to 9 and add interest to the garden year-round.
These low-maintenance shrubs do not require much fertilizing. Adding a light, well-balanced fertilizer once a year in the spring is all that is needed.
Light pruning once a year will help keep the firethorn thick, bushy, and healthy. It is best to do this after blooming to avoid removing any buds. Heavy pruning can compromise production of blooms in the following year, since flowers develop on the previous year’s growth. If you must heavily prune this shrub, it is best to do it at the end of winter.
Propagating firethorn through cuttings is very easy. It is best to do this in the summer with semi-hardwood cuttings. You will need sharp garden snips, a small pot, well-draining soil, rooting hormone, a plastic bag, and a rubber band. Then follow these instructions:
- Using clean, sharp garden snips, cut a stem that is around 6 inches long.
- Remove all the leaves on the lower end of the cutting, leaving only those at the top.
- Dip the cut end into rooting hormone. Shake off the excess powder.
- Gently bury the cut end into moist, well-draining soil.
- Place a plastic bag over the cutting to help retain moisture. Secure it around the pot with a rubber band.
- Place the cutting in bright, indirect light and keep the soil moist.
- Roots should form in around six to eight weeks. Gently tug on the cutting to check for resistance. If there is resistance, roots have formed. When this occurs, remove the plastic bag.
How to Grow Firethorn From Seed
Firethorn can also be easily started from seed. Here is how:
- When berries ripen in the fall, collect a few and remove the berry flesh.
- Plant the seeds immediately into small pots containing moist soil. Cover them lightly.
- Place a plastic bag over the pot to keep in moisture. Then place the pots into the refrigerator for around 3 months to cold stratify the seeds.
- Check the soil periodically to maintain its moisture. Water when needed.
- After three months, remove the pots from the refrigerator and remove the plastic bag. Place them in a warm area with bright, indirect lighting. Germination should occur in one to two weeks.
- Once the threat of frost is gone, plant the seedlings outdoors.
Potting and Repotting Firethorn
Firethorn grows well in containers but does not handle transplanting very well. Therefore, it is best to select a large pot to accommodate this shrub’s rapid growth and minimize the need to repot. Be sure to choose a pot with good drainage.
To pot this shrub, gently remove the firethorn from its container by tipping it on its side and tapping the outside of the pot to loosen the roots. Be sure to wear gloves to avoid injury from the thorns. Once the roots are loosened, slide the shrub out and place it into its new pot with well-draining, sandy soil. Bury the shrub to the top of the root line, as it was in its previous container.
The firethorn displays its evergreen leaves and vibrant berries all winter long without much additional care. Because they are designed to withstand cold temperatures, simply add a layer of mulch around the plant to help insulate the roots and enjoy the firethorn’s vibrant display.
How to Get Firethorn to Bloom
Firethorn produces small, white flowers in the spring and summer months which then turn into its famous red berries in the fall and winter. Though delicate and pretty to look at, the white flowers have an unpleasant aroma.
No deadheading is required, but if the shrub requires pruning, it is best done after blooming. Provide this shrub with full sun to encourage more blooming.
Common Problems With Firethorn
Firethorn is a hardy plant, although it is prone to both fire blight and scab. Let’s take a look at these common issues, what to look out for, and how to treat them.
Scab is a fungal disease that disfigures the fruits, leaves, and blooms of Pyracantha species, making them dark and scabby in appearance. If this fungus attacks a firethorn shrub, it is best to remove all infected areas, if possible. Collect, remove, and burn any fallen leaves to prevent reinfection. Spray the plant with an anti-fungal spray to treat the source of the infection.
Fireblight is a bacterial infection that usually affects growth in the spring. It easily spreads from plant to plant. Signs include sudden wilting, browning, and blackening of growth. This makes the plant appear as if it were burned with fire. Infected areas must be removed and destroyed to prevent this bacterial infection from killing the plant. The plant can also be sprayed with an antibiotic.
Is firethorn an evergreen?
Firethorn is both evergreen and semi-evergreen, depending on the climate it is grown in. Shrubs grown in warm climates are evergreen, while shrubs grown in colder climates are semi-evergreen.
Do birds eat firethorn berries?
Yes, firethorn berries are eaten by a wide array of birds. This shrub will attract a number of bird species to the garden, providing both food and shelter.
Pyracantha coccinea. North Carolina State Extension.
Pyracantha Scab. Royal Horticultural Society.
Fireblight: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment. University of Georgia Extension.