The hardy pyracantha holds down a number of jobs in the garden.
You can bend it or weave it on a trellis, drape it over a wall, lay it out flat on a slope, shape it up as a hedge--or just leave it totally alone. Pyracantha is certainly a very firm statement, very architectural. Anything you want to do with it will probably work. It can be pruned, espaliered, or even cascaded like a wave.
Pyracantha is one of those wonderful plants that grows more vigorously if rarely watered and produces more berries if never pruned. In fact, because it bears its colorful fruit on last year's wood, any clipping done to keep your pyracantha groomed as a hedge or espalier will reduce the number of berries produced.
Now there are tall, short, and prostrate selections available, so it is possible for you to choose a plant that will grow roughly the shape and size you desire without having to do any pruning except for the removal of an occasional contrary branch.
If you do choose to clip or otherwise train your pyracantha, don't let the common name, firethorn, put you off. It has true thorns from the woody core of the twig--nice, firm, widely spaced ones that are easy to spot and avoid, rather than nasty little prickles that snap off in your skin.
The thorns can even be seen as an asset if pyracantha is trellised under windows to deter intruders or planted between your yard and that of the neighbor with the rowdy children. It's also the thorns that make pyracantha perfect for the perimeter of a garden, because it's one of the few plants that browsing deer really don't like. For birds, however, because of both the protection factor and the abundant winter berries, pyracantha is the ideal habitat.
Pyracantha: At a Glance
Height: varies with species and selection
Growth rate: rapid
Light: full sun
Soil: any well drained
Water: Do not overwater.
Problems: aphids, scales, fireblight, and scab--choose disease-resistant selections
Range: evergreen in Middle to Coastal South, hardy in Upper South depending on selection
This article is from the November 2002 issue of Southern Living.