Scarlet Firethorns have many uses
Gardeners worry about flowering trees, shrubs and bulbs in spring; flowers and vegetables in summer; and foliage color in autumn. But many of us don’t think enough about the winter landscape. And that’s too bad, because winter provides lots of opportunities for color and interest.
For example, we needed more pizzazz in winter by our front door. There was plenty of greenery provided by ground covers and foundation evergreens, but very little color. So we planted a group of three scarlet firethorns (Pyracantha coccinea "Lowboy") about 4 feet apart. The plants grew slowly the first year, and then took off. By the third year we had a solid mass of glossy evergreen foliage 2 to 3 feet high, with a great display of bright orange berries from October to March.
Firethorns can be used as a barrier to minimize animal and human traffic (the thorns are quite sharp), or as specimen plants in a mixed border where the berries will be visible. Varieties as short as 2 feet or as tall as 12 feet are available.
Plant in full sun and well-drained soil. Dig a hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball, then use a garden fork to break up the soil in the bottom of the hole. Position the plant so that the soil level is the same as in the nursery container, and add the soil from the hole back around the root ball. Don’t add fertilizer to the hole as this might burn tender roots.
Keep mulch a few inches away from the plant’s stems. Water deeply each week for the first year or two until a good root system is established. Fertilize in spring for the first couple of years with a complete fertilizer (like 10-10-10), and thereafter only as indicated by a soil test.
Firethorns flower on previous year’s growth, so severe pruning will drastically reduce flower and berry production. Light pruning for shape should be done in late spring. Remove branches that have gotten out of control through mid-summer. Whenever you prune, wear heavy gloves and long sleeves.
If berries turn black in winter or leaves form brown spots the plant has a fungus infection. Clean up all debris around the plant and remove severely infected stems. To prevent reinfection spray with a fungicide containing chlorothalonil (Daconil® is a popular brand), per the instructions on the label.
Jim Janke is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Haywood County. For more information call the Haywood County Extension Center at 456-3575. © 2013 NC State University.