FOR FALL AND WINTER COLOR
The 'Firethorns' dark green leaves, versatility, plus bright fall and winter berries provides interest and color in the fall and winter garden. Relatively easy to grow, the firethorn is versatile and virtually has unlimited use in the sunny landscape.
The various varieties of pyracantha, better known as firethorn, will reach their peak of beauty in the weeks to come. The showy berries range from yellow-orange, to orange, to various shades of red, depending upon the variety. The berries are in clusters, which stand out against the background of the dark-green leaves.
Flower arrangers love the cut branches, especially for artistic type arrangements. The berries also serve as food for the birds, although the birds often fly erratically after consuming them.
The creamy white spring flower clusters are quite showy, usually completely covering the plant. They have a slight, pleasant fragrance. They are attractive in the garden and also are popular to cut and use for arranging.
WAYS TO USE FIRETHORN
Pyracantha branches are quite pliable, making them easy to train. So they are popular plants to espalier, grow as bonsai, or train in various forms and shapes. In fact, nurseries will often feature container grown plants, already espaliered or trained in any number of distinctive shapes.
In many older gardens you will see them trained flat against a wall, fence, or fireplace chimney. In such spots, the pyracantha does a good job of softening an otherwise uninteresting area.
Personally, I like to see them used as freestanding shrubs. Its upright, graceful, spreading habit of growth makes it an excellent plant to use in landscape borders. Or, if they are grown freestanding the plants can easily be trained into a privacy screen or hedge. Since the plants have thorns, not many creatures will ever try to make their way through this plant. So you could classify it as a security plant too!
Firethorn is excellent to grow in containers for the patio, deck or lanai. With a little pruning, some interesting shapes can be created. Of course, the height and size of the plant should be restricted when this plant is grown in a container. You can do just about anything you want with this plant by simple pruning and shaping.
These plants can b pruned at any time. However, the best time is in March, April and May during or just after the spring flowering season. Additional light pruning may be necessary to keep the plant within bounds during the summer. Every year, ours tends to develop a few branches that are out of proportion with the rest of the plant, so we just nip them back as they form.
Limited pruning can also be done during the winter, so you can enjoy the cut branches and berries for indoor arranging. However, try to avoid much pruning in late August or September, as this late summer pruning tends to stimulate new, tender growth, which is likely to freeze.
Plants will flower and berry best when they are planted in full or part sun. They must be situated in a spot that has good drainage. Actually they thrive on a certain amount of neglect, so be careful not to over-water or over feed them. Give them plenty of space. One plant in my garden is approximately 8' wide and I keep it at about 5' in height. Of course, one could let it get bigger, or prune it back to help confine the growth a bit more.
These are not demanding plants, so ordinary garden soil is satisfactory. However, as with all plants, they will do better if you take the time to add some organic humus into the planting soil. Peat moss, compost or processed manure are three of the best forms of organic humus.
If you are transplanting an established plant, take time to prepare the new planting soil properly. In this case, to lessen transplanting shock, you will want to mix organic humus into the new planting soil. Also, add a non-burning transplanting fertilizer, mixing it with the new soil. You will need to move the plant with soil attached to the roots. So be certain to moisten the soil, around the roots of the plant before you ever start digging it, so the soil will cling to the roots. The best time to transplant is during the winter dormant season months of November through early March.
These plants really do not require much fertilizing attention. Off color leaves or stunted growth would be signs indicating the need for feeding. Should either occur, the best time to feed them is in mid-February or mid-May. Use a rhododendron or evergreen type of fertilizer to feed them. Be certain to thoroughly water-in the fertilizer after application, so there is no chance of it burning the roots.
VARIETIES OF INTEREST
Here are a few of my favorite varieties. 'Lalandei', hardy, old-time favorite, 8-10', orange berries; 'Kasan' 8-10', Orange red berries: 'Teton', 10-12, yellow-orange berries, 'Watereri' 7-8', bright red berries. In addition, there are several dwarf varieties that are excellent for low hedges, ground covers, or to use as foreground plants in borders. Here are a couple of nice ones. 'Red Elf' 2' tall. And about the same width, with red berries; 'Ruby Mound', 3-4' high and 4-6' wide, with bright red berries; and 'Lowboy', 2-3' high and 6-8' wide, with bright orange berries.
Firethorns are great plants to use in the landscape because of their fall and winter berries. They add that bright spot of color, at a time when not much is going on in the garden.