Cotoneasters comprise a large group of shrubs, ranging from ground-hugging varieties to tall species. Shrubs are deciduous or evergreen, often with glossy, green foliage. They prefer to grow in sun to part shade. In late spring, cotoneasters bloom with small creamy white to light pink flowers. But their greatest attributes are their orange to red fruits and brilliant red foliage in autumn. Spreading cotoneasters are useful as ground covers, while taller varieties make excellent hedges and windbreaks.
Cotoneasters with a prostrate growth habit make great ground covers, because they grow much wider than tall. When planted on a slope, they provide good erosion control. They look great when spilling over a rock wall. Examples are bearberry cotoneaster (Cotoneaster damneri), rock cotoneaster or rockspray (Cotoneaster horizontalis) and Scarlet Leader, a cultivar of the Cotoneaster salicifolius species. Bearberry cotoneaster is evergreen and grows up to 1 1/2 feet tall and spreads out to 6 feet. But one variety of Cotoneaster damneri, Streib's Findling, grows only 8 inches tall with a spread of several feet. Rock cotoneaster is a deciduous shrub with glossy, deep green leaves and branches that form a herringbone pattern. It grows up to 3 feet high and 15 feet wide. Scarlet Leader has a matlike growth with evergreen or semi-evergreen leaves and will reach 3 feet with a spread of 10 feet.
Dwarf cotoneasters are very small shrubs that have larger counterparts within the same species. Grow them as ground covers, together with perennials or even like bonsai trees. Tom Thumb (Cotoneaster horizontalis), sometimes also called Little Gem, is a compact plant, that grows to about a foot and is suited for the rock garden. The dwarf Blackburn is a more compact variety of Cotoneaster apiculatus and can reach 3 feet in height. Himalayan dwarf (Cotoneaster microphyllus) is a tiny evergreen shrub, which grows only 3 inches tall and spreads to about 2 feet. Use it as a low ground cover or grow it as a bonsai tree.
This group comprises cotoneasters that reach 3 to 6 feet in height. Use these shrubs in a low hedge, as foundation plants or together with perennials. Cranberry cotoneaster (Cotoneaster apiculatus) is a 3-foot-tall and 6-foot-wide shrub that sports showy red berries. Another shrub with similar dimensions is spreading cotoneaster (Cotoneaster divaricatus). It is deciduous and wind tolerant. A variety in the Cotoneaster horizontalis species, Variegatus, has tiny leaves with white margins and grows up to 3 feet tall and 6 feet wide.
Use the shrubs in this group in hedges, as screens or as windbreaks. Peking cotoneaster (Cotoneaster acutifolius) is a deciduous shrub, growing 6 to 10 feet tall with a similar width. Another cotoneaster, similar in growth to Peking cotoneaster, is hedge cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lucidus). Both, Peking and hedge cotoneaster, have long spreading branches. Many-flowered cotoneaster (multiflorus cotoneaster) grows to 12 feet with a fountainlike habit and arching branches. It has showy, white flowers and small, pearlike red fruit.