How To Train Pyracantha

Ilona Erwin

Pyracantha is a stiff, thorny, strongly upright shrub, and one of the best ways to grow it is as an espalier or trained into an upright shape. Even though older branches can get quite stiff, the plant as a whole is pliable -especially the new growth, so starting early and keeping up with the training will produce a very attractive landscape feature. Pyracantha Shrubs are:

Pyracantha in bloom

Pyracantha in bloom

  • Evergreen to semi-evergreen in zones 7 and south. Hardy further north, in zones 5 and 6 depending on variety. It suffers from winter-burn for me.
  • Member of the rose family, it grows large, has thorns, is a woody shrub. Pyracantha coccinea is native to Europe, others are native to China and surrounds.
  • Useful for birds, which like the berries during the winter
  • Plant it where you wish it to remain, Pyracantha bushes hate transplanting
  • Will tolerate some shade, though blooms and fruits best in full sun

Wall Training Pyracantha

This is the way I grow my Mohave firethorn, to give it some protection from the cold climate and strong winds we have here in western Ohio. To espalier a shrub is an old European garden fashion that requires regular pruning and early training, but it displays to the fruits to perfection, keeps unwieldy branches tightly in check and gives a vertical dimension to a garden.

Pyracanthas Are Ideal For Espalier

English gardeners of the 18th century were fond of decorating a bare wall expanse in this way. They often produced fruit for their table from training apples, pears, and quinces with the method. It created a decorative feature and there are many styles.

For gardens in cold climates this is also a way to protect shrubs from the worst of our weather.

Why should you bother to train pyracantha, which is a large shrub, like this? To keep it in check. Pyracantha has dangerous thorns, and branches that are long and don’t like to grow upright on their own. This is why they are so amenable to espalier training, but make them poor subjects for most suburban places without training. It is a good way to decorate a bare wall or fence.

Train Pyracantha as a Formal Espalier

What is a formal espalier? It is a pattern made from the strict training of trees and shrubs into shapes given names such as:

Palmette verrier

Directions for the palmette shape, which is a a tiered cordon which mimics a candelabra shape.

Cordons and u-shaped

Directions for the curving of uprights to create singular or multiple vertical branches.

Belgian fence

Directions for creating a Belgian fence, the shape consisting of a lattice pattern. It is made by at least 3 single horizontal cordons whose branches are trained in opposite 45° angles to create a broad V.

Arcure and Losange (variations of the fence pattern)

Arcure shapes are curved over to the right to form half-circles, and the Losange type are a dense variation of the Belgian fence style.
Espalier a Pyracantha

Espalier a Pyracantha Photo credit: Myristica

Formal espaliers require a framework until they become strong enough to stand on their own. Latticework or fences are often used. Grow your shrub plant 6 to 8 inches away from the wall. The geometric patterns of these formal styles of espalier follow certain directions in order to achieve the desired effect.

I think that most gardeners would be happiest training Pyracanthas in a simple cordon variation along a fence or a latticed shaped espalier, unless they opt for the freeform.

Train Pyracantha as a Informal Espalier

I espalier my firethorn informally, a freeform shape dictated only by the way I wish to see it grow. For me, that means it clears the window and climbs the side of the house to display its flowers and fruits. I also prune it to keep clear of an entry to the porch and not snag unwary passersby.

Ways to Attach To Support

  • Masonry staples and concrete nails
  • Eye bolts and ties
  • wires attached to supports (as grapevines are grown)
Espalier methods require commitment to regular and consistent pinching and pruning.

Tools Needed

Good pruners, which means they are strong, sharp, and comfortable to use. Suggested:

Felco Ergonomic Design Pruners

Always a good idea to have a quality pair of pruners for landscaping tasks, it becomes a necessity when training this shrub. Ergonomic means the design is friendly to the way the human body works and after a session of trimming away superfluous branches, the benefits will be obvious. Felco is a brand that gardeners can wisely invest in.

Don’t Forget Gloves

With those wicked thorns, garden gloves are a must for me. I fearlessly grab branches to cut and pick up the trimmings to cart away. Even using rose gloves, I make sure I wear a long sleeved shirt. Working around any plant with thorns requires these precautions. Eyebolts, masonry tools, turnbuckles, and 14-gauge+ wire, if attaching to brick or stucco. I have used eyebolts and wire clothesline to attach growing branches to my frame house. Sunset has illustrated steps for wire attached support.

  1. Drill hole in masonry wall with a masonry bit. Watch not to overheat your drill. Insert masonry shield, tap in with hammer.
  2. Space holes 15-18 inches apart.
  3. Screw eyebolts into openings.
  4. String the wire: Attach wire end to eyebolt and pull wire taut to attach to next bolt.
  5. Attach branches to wire or the eyebolts directly.

Beginning Method To Train Your Shrub

  1. Choosing young shrub, plant it almost two feet out from wall.
  2. Cut down to about 1 foot tall.
  3. Take top three buds that grow and train central one straight up and one on each side to grow horizontally. Tie with twine to supports.
  4. Train the second tier the following year, trimming out unwanted growths. Repeat the process until you fill the desired space.
  5. Or tie to trellis and trim branches in line with it.

Pyracantha coccinea trivia

Used in English gardening as early as 1629, P. coccinea is a candidate for a historical garden. Classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Rosaceae. A member of the large Rose family! Pyracantha blooms on old wood.   Trained as bonsai:

More links on training pyracantha shrubs

Lalandi Pyracantha Espalier info Plant info from Clemson U. Pyracantha Website USDA information Pyracantha Espalier PDF Intro photo

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.