The pyracantha is a garden shrub, the about ten species are native to Europe and Asia, and in Italy it can also be found in the wild; it produces a dense and not very compact shrub, very branched, with a stem that also has very low branches, almost at ground level; the bark is dark, and the branches are generally thin, with annual growths of several centimeters; all stems carry large, sharp thorns. There piracanta It is evergreen, and has small spatula-like leaves, shiny and dark green; in spring it produces small white flowers with five petals, gathered in small bunches, followed by small colored berries in the summer, which remain long on the plant; in nature the berries are red, orange or yellow. There are various cultivars and hybrids, with particularly large or colored berries, or with an almost climbing habit, or very compact and dwarf.
There piracanta it is a shrub belonging to the Rosaceae family, therefore the small flowers are very similar in shape to the flowers of the fruit plants, even if of smaller dimensions; the fruits, generally called berries, are actually small apples, pomi would be the scientific term, with sugary pulp and seeds at the center of the fruit; the apples are edible, even if the sugary taste conceals an aftertaste that after consuming few raw fruits becomes unpleasant; once with these small apples, fruit preserves and jams were prepared.
The name seems very exotic, so much so that we often find gardening enthusiasts who consider it a plant imported into Europe from distant shores; the scientific name pyracantha derives from the Greek, where pyr means fire and acanthos means thorns, therefore this plant is called fiery thorns, to evoke the two distinctive traits of the shrub: the sharp thorns and the fruits that set fire to the autumn garden. Closely related to the cotoneaster, the Italian plant is commonly called Agazzino.
How to grow the pyracantha
As mentioned before, the pyracantha is a shrub that in Italy is also present in nature, therefore it is a garden plant of easy cultivation, being already well adapted to the climatic conditions of our peninsula; it is cultivated in a well-lit area of the garden, with at least a few hours a day of direct light; it can be cultivated in pots, but it is preferable to cultivate them in large containers, or in the open ground, where it can enlarge its root system as desired; likes fairly loose and well-drained soils, but does not disdain the common garden soil, provided it is well permeable and not heavy or often soaked with water.
Not afraid of frost or summer heat. The young specimens are watered for the first two to three years after planting, but only when the soil is dry; over the years the plants become self-sufficient, contenting themselves with water for watering. Surely in case of particularly dry and dry springs it can happen to have to water the plant.
At the end of winter, every year, a slow release granular fertilizer is spread at the foot of the plant, for flowering plants, in order to guarantee a good content of mineral salts in the soil; these plants are hardy and resistant, so they often develop without any care, watering, fertilizer or pruning.
Some particular pyracanths
In general we are so used to seeing a hedge of pyracanthus that we cannot enjoy the beauty of this shrub: it has a spectacular flowering, with lots of white flowers, which attract lots of useful insects; and the fruits are spectacular in the autumn and winter garden, and remain on the plant for months. In addition to this it is a truly rustic plant, which should not be covered in winter, which does not suffer from the heat or drought of a sultry Italian July.
Therefore a fine specimen deserves to be cultivated as a single specimen, giving rise to a beautiful shrub with a roundish habit, with the mingled branches of the year arched, and full of flowers in spring; if we do not have much space we can choose one of the compact varieties of pyracanth in the nursery: in the 80s a nice North American nurseryman decided to select some dwarf varieties of pyracantha, we find them even today in the nursery, they often have a varietal name derived from the tribes of American Indians; so if we have little room in the garden, we look for a pyracantha "Apache", or a pyracantha "Navaho", surely we will get a shrub no higher than 50-80 cm, round and compact, full of flowers in spring; for a small garden it is certainly advisable to use one of these varieties rather than a botanical species, which can quickly reach 3-4 meters in height, forcing us to continue pruning.
Piracanta: Uses of the plant
Often the pyracantha is used to create an impenetrable hedge, since the shrub is dense and compact, and has thorns; to accelerate the development of a high hedge in the nursery we often find specimens bred in order to develop a thin stem already several centimeters high, with few lateral branches; this type of shrubbery must be placed near a net, or in any case equipped with a guardian, because it is not able to stand autonomously, at least for the first years of life.
To prepare a pyracantha hedge it is necessary to plant the shrubs about sixty centimeters away from each other, so that over time they form a continuous screen; remember that these plants are quite vigorous in their development, and can produce branches several centimeters long, even only during a spring, so to obtain an ordered hedge we will be forced to regular pruning, which will often deprive us of part of the flowering and therefore of the fruits.