By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Pyracantha is the scientific name for firethorn plants, which are hardy from USDA plant hardiness zones 6 to 9. Firethorn is an evergreen plant that is easy to grow and provides seasonal interest and berries. Even the most novice gardener can handle the simple care of the firethorn bush.
Firethorn is a tall shrub or small tree at 6 to 16 feet (2 to 5 m.) tall and almost as wide. There is a variety of conditions suitable for planting firethorn. This versatile and colorful shrub may be used as an espaliered specimen, in containers, as a hedge, or just as a bright season-long addition to a border or bed.
Enjoy the shiny leaves year around with small white flowers appearing in early summer. These develop into red or orange berries that persist well into winter.
Pick either a sunny, shady, or a partially sunny location for growing firethorn shrubs. They also thrive in either dry or moist soils, although damper areas produce bigger plants. Therefore, you may want to choose a fertile, moist location when planting firethorn.
Consider the location of your shrub carefully. The plant’s spectacular looks are paired with prickly leaves that snag and scrape. Plant the shrub away from doorways, gates, and entryways.
Dig the hole twice as large as the root ball when planting firethorn and provide consistent water while establishing. Install firethorn in fall for the healthiest plant and best results.
Care of firethorn bushes is low-maintenance and they are prone to few pests and disease problems. Firethorn can even tolerate short periods of freezing and drought conditions once established with mulch around the root zone.
The plant may get fire blight disease if it sits in an overly moist area. Plants that get too much nitrogen and grow excess leafy tips will not form dense clusters of fruits. You can choose a number of varieties of the plant resistant to disease and problems. Check to see which ones are most suited for your zone when growing firethorn shrubs.
Firethorn care is almost foolproof as long as you follow a few important tips. Firethorn plants grow quickly and benefit from occasional pruning. You can trim them at any time of the year as long as you take no more than one-third of the growth. To ensure fruits, prune in early spring before the flowers form.
A low, spreading variety perfect for borders is ‘Lowboy’. One of the fastest and tallest cultivars is ‘Mohave’, with ‘Teton’ a close second. Both ‘Apache’ and ‘Fiery Cascade’ are resistant to many different diseases.
One primary concern when choosing a firethorn plant is berry color. ‘Teton’ gets bright vibrant golden berries. Red forms include ‘Tiny Tim’ and ‘Apache’. The rich sunny red-gold berries of ‘Mohave’ cannot compete with the startling orange fruits on ‘Gnome’, ‘Lowboy’, and ‘Fiery Cascade’.
Whichever variety you choose, be assured that the birds will flock to your garden. The clusters are also excellent in wreaths and as part of everlasting bouquets. This easy to care for plant is a gem for the landscape and will reward you with a variety of uses.
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Below is a listing of Gardenality Business Profiles that sell Firethorn, Pyracantha:
Alex Diaz · Gardenality Sprout · Zone 8B · 15° to 20° F
Needs regular watering - weekly, or more often in extreme heat.
Average Landscape Size:
Fast growing to 3 ft. tall and wide.
Spring flowers, fall berries
Border, Firescaping/Fire Wise, Mass Planting, Rock Garden
Alex Diaz · Gardenality Sprout · Zone 8B · 15° to 20° F
Follow a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system. Feed with a general purpose fertilizer before new growth begins in spring. For a tidy, neat appearance, shear to shape in early spring.
Needs regular watering - weekly, or more often in extreme heat.
Well-suited for a hedge, fast-growing pyracantha's thorns repel animal intruders. Use it near the perimeter of a landscape as a living screen. (Those same thorns mean this plant is best sited away from popular play spaces.) Many types of birds love pyracantha its bright berries serve as a food source and its dense growth serves as a nesting site.
Pyracantha grows best in full sun to part shade and well-drained soil. It is a rampant grower, sometimes producing as much as 2 feet of new growth a year. Choose a planting location carefully to avoid the frustration of a plant that grows exceptionally large and overwhelms the space. Avoid planting pyracantha in highly fertile soil, which promotes rampant growth that makes the plant more susceptible to fire blight (a deadly bacterial disease that decreases berry production).
Fall is the best time to plant pyracantha, because the cool air and soil temperatures encourage the shrub to produce a strong root system. If berry color is important, buy plants when they have fruit. Sometimes plant tags don't accurately represent fruit color.
Prune this shrub anytime it may be easiest to prune when the stems are semi-leafless in winter or early spring. Pyracantha only produces flowers and fruit on stems that are at least one year old, so leave some of the old growth standing each year.
Pyracantha is susceptible to two serious problems. Fire blight is a bacterial disease that plagues new and established plants it kills individual branches first, followed quickly by the entire plant. Scab causes plants to drop their leaves and turns fruit a dark, sooty color. Choosing disease-resistant varieties is the best line of defense against these problems.
Just because thorny privacy bushes have prickles doesn’t mean they can’t be attractive and provide a lovely appearance for the front or back of your home. Choose plants that have the foliage and flowers you want while also adding an extra layer of protection for your property.
Shrub Roses are hybrids that have combined some of the best qualities of other roses. As a result, Shrub Roses are easy to maintain and can withstand numerous types of harsh growing conditions, including cold temperatures, high humidity, and drought.
Thorns also grow in plentiful abundance with these plants, making them an excellent defense for your home. Shrub Roses like the rugosa can grow 8 feet high and 6 feet wide.
Their massive size is perfect for use as a dense hedge and will keep trespassers from crossing over into your property. A beautiful way to protect your garden, the rugosa flowers bloom from late spring to early summer and give off a strong, pleasant scent.
Not all plants use thorns as their defense mechanism against intruders. Shrubs like Agarita plants use sharp-tipped leaves as their weapon of choice.
These plants have much more to offer, however, than an added boost to home security. Their dense branches and prickly edges make them magnets for songbirds searching for predator-free plants to call home.
Small, yellow flowers bloom from late February to April. This evergreen shrub also produces red berries from April to May that are edible, should you choose to brave the spiky thicket.
The Crown of Thorns plant is as intimidating as its name suggests. These thorny evergreen bushes have a long spiky stem that can grow up to three feet high with inch-long spindles that cover its entire length.
Despite its alarming spines, the Crown of Thorns produces beautiful pink flowers that make the plant look slightly less terrifying. The size and shape of these plants make them perfect deterrents beneath window sills.
However, it is also worth noting that ingesting the plant is toxic for both pets and humans. Even the sap will generate a poison ivy like rash by merely touching it.
While the plant’s toxicity is a bonus defense to keep intruders out of your yard, this should be taken into account when finding a suitable location. Keep the plant out of reach of footpaths, and use a border or spiny ground cover to keep pets and other animals away from potential harm from this beautiful yet highly protective plant.
The Japanese Barberry has a high ornamental appeal to landscapers because of their spectacular accents of colors, which start in the spring and last throughout the fall.
These purple shrubs bloom with soft yellow flowers in spring, then sport deep red or reddish-orange foliage in the fall. In winter, all that’s left are the spiny stems.
Easy to prune, with a brilliant display of colors throughout the year, these shrubs make excellent dense hedges. The Japanese Barberry grows anywhere from one to six feet tall and can even be used as borders for the bottom of fences if adequately maintained.
Full sun and well-drained soils are ideal growing conditions for the shrub. However, it can also grow in tolerate partial shade and is drought resistant.
For a breathtaking spin on the hedge plant, flowering quince displays beautiful pink, red, or white flowers that bloom in late winter to spring. Flowering Quince also produces yellowish fruit, similar to apples but too acidic to eat raw.
This fruit ripens in the fall and makes delicious jams once cooked. This drought-tolerant plant does best with minimal watering.
Too much water can causes root rot or leads to fungal diseases that spread throughout the plant. Monitoring the amount of water during rainstorms helps prevent issues from forming, as well as watering the plant in the morning to allow it time to dry throughout the day.
True to its name, Sea Buckthorn grows in coastal areas. The shrub consists of long, silvery green leaves and produces yellowish-green flowers in early spring. Its branches include sharp thorns, making it another excellent hedge plant.
Sea Buckthorn also bears fruits that are rich in nutrients, supplying yet another reason to add the shrub to your list of defensive plants. Vitamins A and C, as well as folic acid, can be found in these edible home security systems. The fruits are also used to make yummy beverages and preserves.
A jumble of sturdy branches, sharp leaves, and unforgiving twigs, hawthorn is not a plant to be taken lightly. Surprisingly, this plant is a member of the rose family and grows as either a thorny shrub or a small tree.
Best as a hedge plant, the leaves are lobed, with tiny serrated edges that quickly latch onto clothing and skin.
Its red berries are the Common Hawthorn’s most notable features and are harvested in autumn before the first frost arrives. Throughout the centuries, traditional remedies and medicines comprised of these berries were said to have “heart-healthy” qualities.
Common Hawthorn consists of several thorny species, including both English Hawthorn and Washington Hawthorn. This variety makes finding a look and style that matches your garden even easier.
Keep in mind some species bear the name “Hawthorn” without bearing their defensive qualities. Plant species like Indian Hawthorn, for example, are thornless and are not even a part of the Cratageus family.
Blackberries are a fast-growing shrub that can be grown beneath windows or along the border of a fence. The rapid speed at which these plants grow means you will have to prune them often.
Blackberries are not the most beautiful plants on the planet, but they do produce delicious fruits that ripen in late summer to the beginning of fall. The “ouch” factor on these plants is so bad that creating hybrids of “thornless “blackberry bushes was considered a landmark achievement.
The thorns on a blackberry bush are not thorns at all. Instead, they are a hard part of the plant’s bark, sharpened and able to tear through thick materials like denim.
The Honey Locust looks like a tree ripped straight from your worst nightmares. With six-inch thorns that jut out of the sides like daggers, any intruder will think twice before stepping foot on your property.
To put the size and severity of the thorns into perspective, these spines were initially used to ward off giant sloths and mastodons. So when these colossal creatures went extinct, Honey Locust did not get the memo.
However, today, we are left with a great way to defend our homes that also double as year-round Halloween decorations.
There’s a reason why Ebeneezer Scrooge cursed people with a stake of holly through the heart at the mere mention of Christmas. It hurts! The dark green leaves of these evergreen shrubs and trees possess spiked edges designed to keep trespassers out of your yard.
Common Holly shrubs come in a variety of species and are not just for winter time. These are year round shrubs that continue to protect your home even after the holidays are over. So, choose the size and style that suits your home and fits into the location you want.
The leaves of the American Century Plant shoot out from the center like blue-green blades. Sharp needles line the edges of each long leaf, making them look a little like a cactus. Both cacti and agave are a part of the succulent family, meaning they can retain water in drier climates.
While the agave lacks some of the same properties as cacti, they are incredibly drought tolerant plants, making them a great addition to gardens in hot, arid locations. The sap of the agave plant can cause itching, a burning sensation, and rashes.
Using added caution when handling or coming into contact with these plants will spare you the added irritation. Century plants can grow up to six feet tall and ten feet wide, making them excellent focal points in a landscape or as hedging.
For the longest time, people viewed Blackthorn shrubs as a symbol of witchcraft. With its black-brown branches peppered with long thorns, these plants probably looked like the product of a witch’s curse.
The wood was even suspected to be the material used to craft magic wands and staffs. Today, the plant is more commonly associated with the wood used in walking sticks, and its sloe berries synonymous with gin.
A native of the United Kingdom, the plant has been found all over, from the Mediterranean to Siberia to Iran. Its ability to adapt to almost any climate makes it an excellent plant for all regions across the United States.
If you are looking for a hedge plant to add a little pop of color to your winters, the Fuchsia-Flowered Gooseberry is the one you want. The bloom time for these bright red flowers starts in January and lasts through the end of spring. During the dormant seasons, the flowers disappear, leaving nothing but the thorny stems and branches.
Despite the ugly look in the summer months, these plants are great ways to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. They are also deer resistant, which means your plants will suffer less damage by deer than other plants.
Also referred to as the “toothache tree,” Prickly Ash received its name from its historical use as a remedy to treat mouth pain. Chewing on the bark, leaves, or fruit from the tree will cause a tingling sensation that numbs the mouth, which made it especially useful for curing toothaches in the past.
Nowadays, these thickets are used to border property lines and keep people from trespassing across lawns. Its “prickly” name comes from the sharp points along the ash’s bark.
A hardy plant, there are virtually no issues with pests or disease. Plus, all parts of the plant, from its stems to leaves, give off an aromatic, citrusy scent.
Similar to the plant it mimics, False Holly is an evergreen shrub. These shrubs can be kept short and are perfect ways to trim the edges of your home and block access to windows.
Their ability to withstand drought and shaded areas ensure their success against areas of your house with longer roofing, which may limit access to water or sunlight.
In the fall, small, white flowers bloom, nestled between the dark green foliage. These flowers give off a potent yet pleasant fragrance.
Hardy Orange is a bitter orange variety shrub used as a living fence and protective barrier. Spines along the stem grow up to two inches long, barring access to your home and gardens with some serious puncture wounds.
Its dense foliage also keeps deer and other animals from wandering into your yard. The “hardy” moniker of the trifoliata is well-earned.
Resistant to humidity, drought, and heat, the Hardy Orange can also survive in below freezing weather. The fruits are edible on this plant, too, though bitter and used mostly for making marmalade.
Firethorn is a versatile plant that can be used to suit almost any need when it comes to home defense. Found in numerous varieties across the world, Firethorn is native to countries like India, Turkey, and France. Due to this wide array of climates, Firethorn thrives in most areas throughout the United States.
Firethorn includes sharp spikes along its branches and beautiful orange or red berries that appear in late summer. These berries are non-toxic in small quantities but keep them away from young children.
The combined aesthetic and defensive value of Firethorn makes it an excellent shrubby border along the perimeter of your home or under windows. It can also be trained along a trellis and fences or against walls.
Choosing the right set of thorny shrubs for home security does not mean sacrificing the aesthetic value of your garden. There are numerous bushes with thorns and spiky leaves to suit every style and setting. The critical part is setting up a defense system that works for you and your family by giving you an added peace of mind.
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Call it a plant for all seasons, call it a landscaper's dream, call it what you may, the hardy pyracantha has many outstanding qualities.
Identified as a vigorous ever green shrub, this versatile plant can be used as a hedge, a screen/barrier plant, a ground cover, or espaliers on walls and fences. It's estimated that it can grow from 6 to 20 feet in height and can spread approximately 10 feet.
Its dark green, glossy foliage is usually easily maintained (except for perhaps severe winters). During spring and early summer, its branches cluster with lacy-white, sweet-smelling flowers, much to the delight of bees. Fall and winter seasons see this plant in a profusion of red, red-orange, or orange berries which birds readily devour (although some firethorn species may have fruit with less bird appeal). Birds utilize pyracantha as a habitat and also are attracted to its dense branches for year-around cover and protection.
Very drought resistant, pyracantha prefers dry soil and full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. This plant can be pruned at almost any time of the year. Several varieties are available.
Drawbacks? A few. Regular pruning is needed to keep pyracantha under control. The name "firethorn" says much. Wear gloves when handling or pruning this plant the thorns are sharp. There is a thornless variety available. Pyracantha is susceptible to fire blight, root rot, and scab.
When landscaping, note not to use this plant in a very small or densely planted area (or next to public walkways), as pyracantha needs SPACE in order to display its handsome and spectacular self.
Poisonous? No. A jelly tasting much like apple jelly can be made from pyracantha berries-the recipe is available from the Cooperative Extension Offices.