How to grow Pyracantha common name Firethorn

wall trained Pyracantha
wall trained Pyracantha

Pyracantha is an evergreen, small to medium-sized shrub. In the spring it has white flowers, which are attractive to pollinators followed by brightly coloured berries, red, yellow or orange, depending on the variety. Its common name is Firethorn on account of the coloured berries. 

Pyracantha has a medium rate of growth, and can be wall trained, standalone, form part of a shrub border or for hedging (see below.)

Plant Pyracantha in full sun or partial shade. Some varieties are more hardy than others so if you are planting in a colder area select a variety which is fully hardy such as P. Orange glow (illustrated top left), or P. coccinea, 'Golden Charmer' or Golden Dome or check with your supplier.

Pyracantha can suffer from pyracantha scab, and fireblight. There are new varieties of Pyracantha which are resistant to these diseases such as P. Golden Charmer and the Saphyr series.

As with all newly planted shrubs, remember, water, water, and water.

Pyracantha as a colourful hedge
Pyracantha as a colourful hedge

Pyracantha is a tough shrub

One of the advantages of growing Pyracantha is that it is a tough shrub tolerant of shade, including being grown on a north-facing wall. In shady conditions there may be fewer flowers and berries, but it will grow well. Pyracantha is tolerant of all soil types except waterlogged ground and is low maintenance, requiring little attention once established. 

If you are intending to wall train Pyracantha, avoid the rain shadow aspect of the wall.

The images do not really do justice to the shrub as the berries provide a lot of autumn colour and look striking. They are also attractive to birds making Pyracantha a good wildlife shrub.

How to Prune Pyracantha

For the first three or four years, as the shrub is getting established, no pruning is required, except a light trim if some stems are wayward. It is unnecessary to routinely prune Pyracantha, but if you need to prune, timing is important.

Pruning in the wrong way, or at the wrong time, may cause a lack of flowers or berries. Pyracantha flower on old wood, that is last year's branches and those same branches carry this year fruit. This is important. Wait until the shrub is in flower, pick those stems which are not bearing any flowers and prune away any diseased, spindly, older stems by about a third. This will keep the plant in shape and retain the flowers and later berries. Prune only the non flowering stems.

The more you prune back the previous years' growth and older wood, the more you risk the flowers and berries. If the shrub needs renovating, or has become leggy, you can cut it back by fairly hard, up to half. It will survive, but the flowers and berries will be scant that year and return the following year. When pruning watch out for the thorns, thick gloves are necessary.

Compare similar shrubs: Pyracantha v Berberis

Pyracantha 'Orange glow'

Pyracantha 'Orange glow'

Pyracantha is evergreen, with small oval shaped shiny green leaves. Its flowers are always white, followed by berries in the autumn. 

In common with Berberis, Pyracantha has thorny with sharp spines. Both are excellent in a shrub border and thorns can be a deterrent.

Berberis darwinii in flower

Berberis darwinii in flower

Berberis shrubs can be evergreen or deciduous. Illustrated B.'Orange glow' is evergreen and at first glance looks a little like a Pyracantha.

A closer look will show that the leaves to be a spine tooth shape, and the orange is produced by flowers. In common with Pyracantha, Berberis produce  berries in autumn, usually red. 

last updated 16.03.2022