How to Trim a Firethorn (Pyracantha)

Written by bonnie grant
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Pyracantha, or firethorn, is an attractive addition to the garden with its glossy-green leaves and fall berries. Firethorn is a large evergreen shrub that can grow to 10 feet tall and 12 feet wide. It produces white flowers in the spring and is a rather unruly shrub that doesn't necessarily require pruning, although it responds well to shaping. It can even be trained to a topiary or espaliered. The plant often is found creeping across a wall or fence and can easily be kept in a tidy habit with routine trimming. There are several varieties with upright, spreading or clumping forms.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Tarp
  • Pruners
  • Sharpening file
  • Gloves
  • Loppers

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  1. 1

    Spread a tarp out under the plant before any pruning is performed. This will catch the thorny trimmings and make cleanup quicker. Sharpen the cutting implements before beginning. Sharp blades make cleaner cuts and help prevent the introduction of pathogens and future damage. Hold the blade at a 45-degree angle and swipe the file across two or three times to sharpen.

  2. 2

    Prune firethorn in the spring for the best results. The plant can be pruned any time because it blooms off of old wood, but cutting after the blooming season will allow you to fully enjoy the flowers. Consider the desired shape before making the first cuts.

  3. 3

    Wear thick gloves when pruning firethorn. As the name suggests, it bears thorns and could get quite painful without gloves. Remove any suckers at the base of the plant and peripheral small branches that cover up the trunk. Make the cuts with garden pruners. If you are training it to a trellis or espalier, now is a good time to tie the longest lateral branches for a beginning framework.

  4. 4

    Remove any unwanted surface shoots that spoil the shape you wish. Damaged and diseased wood should also be cut out. If you are training it to one trunk, remove the extra basal growth when the tree is young, allowing the straightest to remain. Preserve as much old wood as possible because it will bear the red or orange berries.

  5. 5

    Cut the plant back heavily if it has been neglected. It will spring back quickly from hard pruning, and then you will be able to manage it as it grows. Trim errant growth at any time, but avoid fall cuts, which will encourage new growth that can burn in freezing temperatures. Heavy pruning will require the use of garden loppers.

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