Firethorn Bush: Bright fruit decoration

Feuerdorn: Leuchtender Fruchtschmuck

Profile

Growth height
from 150.00cm to 400.00cm
Growth width
from 150.00cm to 400.00cm
Growth characteristics
  • bizarre
  • upright
  • bushy
  • Thorns or spines
Flowering time (month)
  • May to June
Flower characteristics
  • hermaphroditic
Sheet shape
  • ovate
  • lance-shaped
  • obovate
Sheet properties
  • evergreen
Fruit colour
  • yellow
  • orange
  • red
Fruit shape
  • Single crop
  • Stone fruit
Fruit characteristics
  • edible
  • long-lasting
Light
  • sunny to semi-shady
Type of soil
  • gritty to clayey
Soil Moisture
  • dry to fresh
pH-value
  • slightly alkaline to slightly acidic
Lime tolerance
  • lime-tolerant
Nutrient requirements
  • moderately nutritious
Decorative or utility value
  • Flower decoration
  • Fruit decoration
  • Bird protection
Use
  • Single position
  • cut hedges
  • free growing hedges
  • Group planting
  • Privacy screen
  • Greening of roads
  • Bird protection hedges
  • Wall greening
  • Discounts
Garden style
  • Roof garden
  • Courtyard
  • Parking facilities
  • Rose Garden
  • Rockery
  • Cemetery

Origin

The firethorn belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae). It occurs worldwide with about ten different species, which however are hardly important as garden plants in our country. The garden forms of the firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea) are crosses of the four wild species Pyracantha coccinea, P. crenatoserrata, P. koidzumii and P. rogersiana. The Mediterranean firethorn (P. coccinea) originates from southeastern Europe, the other species are native to China and Taiwan. The nurseries offer different varieties with different berry colours.

Growth

All garden forms of the firethorn grow more or less upright and form a dense crown with somewhat sparse branches. Depending on the variety, they grow 1.5 to 4 metres high and wide. The bark of the branches and twigs is dark brown and covered with long pointed thorns. The bark of the older main branches shows a slightly shiny, grey olive colour.

Sheets

The alternate foliage of the firethorn is evergreen and somewhat coarse. The leaves are ovoid, inverted ovate to lanceolate with often rounded tips. They grow to three to four centimetres long, have a finely curled edge and a dark green, shiny surface. The undersides of the leaves are light green.

Flowers

The small hermaphroditic flowers of the firethorn are white to creamy white and arranged in dense panicles. They open in May and June along the shoots of the previous year. Each individual flower has the typical rosacea structure with five petals and centrally arranged fruit and stamens.

Fruits

The round, roughly pea-sized stone fruits of the firethorn are yellow to bright red, depending on the variety, and appear from the end of August in dense fruit clusters on the shoots. They remain on the shoots well into winter and are very decorative due to their high luminosity. Contrary to popular opinion, the fruits of the firethorn are not poisonous. However, they are so sour that they are long scorned by birds.

Location and soil

The Firethorn is resistant to urban climates and very heat-tolerant, so it should be placed in full sun if possible. It also grows in partial shade, but here the blossom and fruit set is much smaller. With its evergreen foliage, the firethorn is somewhat susceptible to frost damage by the winter sun in exposed locations – but the dead leaves are shed in spring and replaced by new ones.

As far as the soil is concerned, the garden forms of the firethorn are extremely undemanding. They grow in any permeable, dry to fresh soil and are also extremely pH-tolerant. They develop best on not too nutrient-poor sites.

Planting and care

The garden centres usually sell firethorn in containers, so you can plant the shrubs throughout the season. However, the ideal planting period is from March to August. There is nothing special to consider when planting, the only important thing is not to plant the root balls too deep. The upper edge of the root ball should be at about the same level as the ground. If you want to plant the firethorn as a hedge, you need about three plants per running meter. For larger specimens, two will be sufficient.

On very sandy, nutrient-poor soils, you should mulch the firethorn with ripe compost every spring. Regular watering is not necessary even in dry summers. After very cold winters and late frosts you will occasionally need to remove some frozen shoots with scissors.

Cut

The firethorn is often grown as a shaped shrub or hedge and can then be trimmed each year immediately after flowering with normal hedge trimmers. It is important to wear thick gloves so that you do not injure yourself on the sharp thorns. If necessary, it is also possible to cut back more deeply into the old wood, as the shrubs are very capable of regeneration.

If you attach importance to a fruit decoration as luxuriant as possible, you should let your fire thorn grow freely. Because the new shoots are largely removed during topiary and only grow back weakly, fire thorns cut into shape do not bear quite as many flowers and fruit.

Use in the garden

As Firethorn is very robust and easy to care for, it is very often planted in public green areas. But it also cuts a fine figure as a garden plant: it can be planted individually or in small groups in front of a house wall, for example, because the soil here is too dry for most other plants. As it shows its most beautiful side in autumn, it is best combined with autumnal woody plants such as various types of maple, dogwoods or Pfaffenhütchen – with its dark green foliage it really brings out the autumn colours of the other woody plants. Classic autumn grasses such as Chinese reed (Miscanthus) or switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) are also very suitable as preplanting material.

By the way: Because the firethorn is evergreen and very tolerant of pruning on the one hand, and does not grow too much on the other hand, it is also very popular as a bonsai. In autumn, the shoots covered with fruit are also a beautiful and very durable vase decoration.

Varieties

The offered garden forms are without exception hybrids. Here we give you a small selection of recommended varieties:

Orange Charmer’: orange coloured fruits, very scab resistant, good fruit set, scored “very good” in tree selection

Red Column’: tightly upright growth, carmine red fruit, scab resistant, rated ‘good

Soleil d’Or’: small variety with bright yellow fruits and quite good frost resistance, scab resistant, rated ‘very good

Teton’: compact, upright and densely bushy growth, scab resistant, yellow-orange fruits, one of the best varieties for cut hedges

Multiplication

Fire thorns are propagated in the tree nursery by cuttings. The new, slightly lignified shoots are used in early summer. Propagation by means of cuttings is also possible. In autumn, the new shoots are torn off the main shoot at the point of attachment, the bark tongue and all leaves are removed and the shoot is shortened to about pencil length. Then place the shoots in a shady bed with loose and humus-rich, evenly moist soil. Until spring, the shoots form roots and sprout.

In principle, fire thorns can also be propagated by sowing, but then the offspring are not true to the variety.

Diseases and pests

The firethorn is very robust and in most current varieties, scab, a fungal disease common in apple cultivation, no longer plays a role. However, like many rose plants, fire thorns are somewhat susceptible to fire blight, an incurable and notifiable bacterial disease. One of the main pests among insects is the large-mouth weevil, which causes the typical bay feeding on the leaves. Its larvae live in the soil and feed on the roots.