Pyracantha Hedge Does Grow in the North


Fall and winter color in your garden will be greatly enriched if you can find space for one or several pyracantha shrubs. Their orange berries, green persistent leaves, and large bulk leave little to be desired in the way of a winter interest shrub.

If your home is located south of a line drawn through the southern third of Michigan and west around the southern tip of Lake Michigan through Illinois, and then diagonally southwest to the southeastern border of Colorado, you should be able to grow fruiting specimens of pyracantha. If you are familiar with the U. S. Department of Agriculture hardiness map of the United States, the area mentioned above would be in the southern tip of zone IV.

pyracantha berries make a colorful winter hedge

Actually this line is quite a bit farther north than zones VI and VII which most references give as the recommended zones for pyracantha. The Morton Arboretum in Illinois, just west of Chicago, classified pyracantha as a semi-evergreen and does not consider it too reliable.

However, at Homewood which is 25 miles south of Chicago, two fruit-bearing specimens used in a foundation planting with a southern exposure have survived more than ten winters. There is also plants growing at Geneseo, Illinois, which has done well. Pyracantha also does well around Lansing, Michigan.

Because the area suggested for growing pyracantha is farther north than normally recommended, you should exercise care in planning a well adapted location for your plants. You also will want to be sure to select a hardy variety.

Two Hardy Varieties

A variety of the scarlet firethorn known as Laland firethorn, Pyracaritha coccinea lalandi, is most commonly planted in Illinois because it is hardier than Pyracantha coccinea.

Another variety which is even more hardy than the Laland is Royal Firethorn, Pyracantha coccinea royali. It is available from nurseries, but is not as common as the Laland variety. Naturally it is best to try to buy pyracantha from local nurseries if possible.

However, since pyracantha grown in the north requires more exacting conditions than would be found in a nursery row, you may find it necessary to obtain plants from, nurseries south of your home.

When you buy pyracantha plants, get them for early spring planting, and be sure that the roots are dug with a ball of soil attached. If the plants are small, they should be in pots. There is no objection to using small plants. As a matter of fact, the deep-going, finely fibrous root system of pyracantha enables small potted plants to survive better and to become established and grow faster than large, balled and burlapped specimens.

It is not uncommon for a balled and burlapped plant to fail to develop much new growth for two or three years after it has been transplanted.

Pyracantha will grow in sun or shade and in most well-drained garden soils. It does tolerate drought. If you live in the North, you should try to locate the plant on the east or south side of a building or other feature which will give it protection from the cold winter winds.

Plants on the south side of your house should have partial shade to break the full intensity of the hot, late winter sun. The branches of a shade tree will provide the needed protection.

Hardiness Increases

The hardiness of pyracantha increases with its age. The first two years after planting are usually the most trying. Chances of survival can be greatly increased during the plant’s early life if a mulch of peat moss, or other suitable material is placed around the roots in late fall.

A light mulch of straw, evergreen branches or other fluffy material placed around the foliage in early December will also reduce winter injury. A wire screen can be used to hold the material in place around the foliage of the plants.

In the north when hardiness may be a question, mulching of the roots and foliage can be done even on large plants. The evergreen foliage effect would, of course, be hidden but the orange berries in the fall and green foliage until December will give you lots of color.

Pyracantha is a massive shrub. Its width is usually greater than its height which will vary from four feet in its northern limit to ten feet farther south. The branches, which are armed with thorns, assume an irregular outline and create a dense growing habit. The glossy dark green leaves are of average size giving a medium texture to the plant.

Because the foliage is persistent the texture remains the same, year around. In addition to the evergreen foliage, pyracantha has white flowers which are produced in many-flowered clusters in late spring.

The fruit is orange or scarlet depending on the species. It matures in early fall and persists into the winter. Use pyracantha as a foundation plant or in almost any other situation where a narrow leaf evergreen might be placed.

As a foundation plant, pyracantha is good for the corners of a two-story symmetrical home. It also is ideal for giving a lived in setting to a one-story home. This is especially true if it is placed about five feet from the corner. Because it is bulky, you would not want to place it directly at the corner of a low home.

Scattering several pyracantha shrubs in your shrubbery border is a good way to give some winter interest to your garden. Also, if you want a permanent low screen, you can plant pyracantha shrubs in a row.

Their dense growth habit is ideal for screening and almost eliminates the need for pruning shears. Usually all that is necessary is to cut off an occasional shoot that grows away from the rest of the plant. Severe pruning would naturally reduce the fruit effect.


If you are interested in training plants, you can have fun with pyracantha. It lends itself very nicely to espalier treatment. However, espaliered plants are probably not as hardy as plants allowed to grow in regular shrub form.

Espalier and upright forms are offered in the nursery trade. Pyracantha shrubs can be used as specimen plants and they will also help increase bird life around your home. The berries are relished by robins going south for the winter.

There are no serious pests or diseases that bother pyracantha. It is susceptible to fire blight, but plants in Illinois (where the disease is quite prevalent) have not been noticeably affected.

Contributed by H.R. Kemmerer

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