Firethorn bears spherical, fiery red or orange-yellow fruits in fall, which contrast brightly with its dark green, leathery foliage. The fruit at the tips of the branches is very lush, even in young plants. Thanks to its good pruning tolerance, it is often used for impenetrable hedges or for greening facades. The firethorn provides excellent shelter and food for the native bird life and is one of the few plants that bring some color to the dreary winter gray in our latitudes.
Table of Contents
The firethorn forms opaque, evergreen shrubs that act as impassable hedges or can grow on house walls with little space requirements. In the city they give a good protection against graffiti sprayers. However, planting where small children play is not recommended, as there is a risk of injury from the extremely hard and sharp thorns. The different growing varieties are either particularly suitable as hedge plants, trellis plants or as ground cover.
- Sun to light penumbra
- fewer or hardly any flowers and fruits in semi-shade
- well-drained, humus-rich soil
- also sandy-loamy or slightly clayey
- with lean, impermeable soil: very susceptible to diseases
- for new planting: mixture of sand and humus
- even in cold, draughty places in the garden
- do not plant too close to other plants
- Soil pH: slightly acidic to alkaline
- deep rooter
- Hardy varieties can be planted outdoors.
- Plant firethorn species that are not hardy in tubs.
care and fertilization
If the Firethorn has an optimal location where it is never wet, its care is not very complex.
- Give nitrogenous fertilizer in the spring, this promotes the formation of flowers and fruit.
- Compost or organic fertilizers are suitable as fertilizer.
- Better keep drier, never too wet ground.
- Firethorn is quite drought-resistant: it can do without water for a long time.
- Water extensively during long periods of heat.
Propagation by seeds
In spring, from May onwards, countless tiny white flowers in the form of umbelliferous panicles form on the firethorn branches, which are mainly pollinated by insects. From August the wonderfully bright berries ripen, also known as stone apples.
- Harvest a few berries in autumn and remove the pulp around the seeds.
- Sow in a box, pot or clay tray with a drainage hole.
- Make sure the soil has good drainage.
- Potting soil can be mixed with sand or clay granules.
- Moisten the soil sufficiently before sowing.
- Use a wooden skewer to make slight transverse furrows at least 2 cm apart in the soil.
- Place seeds in the furrows. Distance at least 2 cm.
- Carefully cover the seeds with a very thin layer of soil.
- To better protect the soil from drying out, it can be covered with a film or pane of glass.
- Place the seed pot in a shady spot and always keep the soil slightly moist.
- After germination, the little plants gradually get used to the sun.
- If the plants have grown a few centimeters, the foil should be removed.
- After a few weeks, when the plants already have some leaves, they need to be repotted into larger pots.
By the way: The fruits of the firethorn taste slightly sour. Although the plant does not fall under the poisonous plants, it still contains substances that can lead to vomiting and diarrhea if large quantities of the fruit are consumed.
Propagation by cuttings
Firethorn can be propagated by seeds, but propagation from cuttings is easier and more effective. This allows the gardener to achieve respectable results relatively quickly.
- Preferred time: spring or early summer.
- Take cuttings from woody shoots.
- Select shoots that are at least 5 mm thick.
- The maximum length of the shoots is about 15-20 cm.
- Mix potting soil with some sand in a flower pot and moisten.
- Insert the cuttings at least 5 cm deep into the ground, depending on their size.
- Place in a sheltered semi-shady location.
- Always keep the soil slightly moist.
- Root formation takes place after a few weeks.
- Good root development can be recognized by the fact that the plant begins to form new leaves again.
- If there is sufficient rooting, it can be released outdoors.
- Pay attention to the location and soil conditions and possibly enrich the existing soil with compost and sand.
Before planting a hedge, the right variety should be selected. Depending on the species, the firethorn can grow to a height of up to about six meters or is more suitable as a ground cover. As one of the few trees and shrubs, it can even grow properly through the narrow openings of wire mesh fences. Therefore, a hedge not only offers good privacy, but is also very difficult to penetrate – if only because of the hard thorns on the shoots. It has a high resilience and proves to be a very tough tree, as long as it is not too shady and damp.
- Planting time: October to March in mild weather
- Planting distance: about 60 to 80 cm
- for hedges well over a meter: columnar species such as Golden Charmer or Orange Glow
- bushy species for low hedges of about a meter
Firethorn as facade greening or trellis
Firethorn is also ideal for greening facades. The growth habit of the Orange Glow variety is well suited to espalier plants. However, since the firethorn has no way of clinging to the wall (like ivy or vines), it needs a trellis. Its initially thin twigs easily follow the threads or slats of the trellis.
- Choose rods, grids or nets with a mesh size that is not too small and fasten them securely to the house wall.
- It is necessary to untie or tuck in the branches on the trellis.
- If the firethorn is to grow bushy, a cut of the long shoots is also appropriate for trellis trees.
- If the firethorn is not only to cover the facade in a bushy manner, but also to lie tightly, as with real trellis wood, all shoots that grow towards and away from the wall must either be diverted or removed.
Firethorn tends to become sparse. This means that individual shoots grow in length without significant branching. With hedges or on the facade, such a property is rather undesirable, so the plant should be pruned from time to time. Topiary is a pruning aimed at keeping the shrub compact. Regular pruning promotes branching and allows the firethorn to grow bushier and more compact. As a young plant, it needs to be cut back more often, especially when forming a hedge with other plants. This is the only way to create an opaque, impenetrable form.
- Growth: 20 – 50 centimeters per year.
- The wood should receive at least one cut per year.
- Frequent pruning of young plants promotes the growth of new branches.
- To do this, cut back all long branches without branching with sharp rose scissors.
- Heavy or radical pruning occurs in February.
- No radical cuts should be made during the growth phase.
- Always remember when trimming hedges: Make sure that no birds are breeding!
- Smaller cuts are made after flowering: July to August.
- If possible, do not cut away all the flowers.
- This does not harm the plant, but it does not offer the birds any food in winter.
- Do not make any more cuts from September, otherwise there is a risk of frost damage to the new shoots.
- Pruning is always done on cloudy or dull days, never in the midday heat.
- At least two new branches then sprout under the intersection, sometimes even more.
- The more often you cut, the faster the plant will become bushy.
- Once the hedge has reached its final shape, only moderate pruning is required.
- With the electric or petrol-powered hedge trimmer, cutting is then less work.
- If necessary: Cut thick branches with the pruning shears beforehand.
- Work very carefully when making a design cut.
- A string will help keep the shape.
care in winter
The fruits of the fire thorn remain on the tree as so-called winter residents in the cold months and do not fall off. They serve as food for native birds or migrants. For this reason, you should never cut the shrub or hedge before winter. Special precautions for the winter are usually not necessary for firethorn if it is a hardy variety. These usually prove to be very frost-resistant and survive the cold months without any problems.
If firethorn grows as a solitary plant in a bucket, it is essential to protect it from very low temperatures. Depending on the species, the tub can then remain in a sheltered place outdoors or must be placed in a frost-free and, above all, bright place.
- Water plants very little in winter.
- Water only in long frost-free periods without precipitation.
- Water more frequently in a frost-free location, but always keep the soil only slightly moist.
- Absolutely avoid waterlogging.
- Place the bucket outdoors against a protected house wall or garden wall.
- Protect from below against frost with a polystyrene plate
- Wrap the pot in Styrofoam, jute bags or air foil and tie it tight.
- Protect the soil from above with a thick layer of autumn leaves or straw.
- Attention: The moisture content of the root ball must still be visible so that it is clear when it is time to water.
Depending on the location, the firethorn is sensitive to various diseases or pests. An optimal location in terms of light and soil strengthens the plant and makes it resistant to pest infestation and diseases. Above all, the right soil – a water-permeable substrate that prevents waterlogging – and regular fertilization have a very positive effect on the health of the firethorn. Nevertheless, pest infestation sometimes occurs. With timely detection, some home remedies are also helpful in the early stages. If the plant is already clearly infested, chemical pesticides protect it from further spread or serious damage. Examples of harmless pests include:
- spider mites
- Wool, grease and shield lice
- white bow tie
- fungus gnats
In addition to the usual pests in the garden, firethorn is known to have other diseases that pose a real threat to the plant population. That’s why experts are trying to breed more and more species that already have a certain level of resistance. These serious diseases include:
- fire blight
The fruits turn brown and crack, and a gray layer of fungus appears on the leaves: the cause is a scab fungus, which finds good growth conditions, especially in damp weather. The young leaves and shoots are infected first in the spring, and later in the summer the fungus also infects the fruit. With the onset of the cold period in winter, however, the scab fungus does not die off, but overwinters on fruits, bark and fallen leaves. Due to the long infection time and the late discovery of scab, combating it with pesticides is practically impossible. You should dig up the infested plants immediately and dispose of them in the household waste.
Fire blight is also a very serious disease. It is caused by bacteria and can be recognized by the sudden death of entire young shoots or branches during the growth phase. The fruits and flowers are also affected. Since entire gardens and orchards can be destroyed by fire blight, the infestation must be reported. Affected trees are dug up by a professional and disposed of to prevent spread.
The Firethorn is a popular, evergreen tree and suitable for hedge planting, trellis planting or as a solitary plant. The different species range from ground cover to columnar plants that can grow up to six meters tall. If the Firethorn has a sunny place in the garden and humus-rich and, above all, well-drained soil, it impresses garden and bird lovers with its bright red berries, which remain on the shoots all winter. The firethorn’s only enemy is wet soil and too much moisture, then it tends to get seriously ill with scab. In an optimal location, it proves to be very easy to care for and extremely frost-resistant, even in draughty places in the garden.