The Q&A Archives: Pruning Pyracantha

Question: I have a pyracantha (firethorn) about 5 years old that has become leggy and is threatening to overtake the rest of the garden. When and how should I prune it to create a nice bushy form that produces lots of berries? Is there anything I can do now as fall approaches?

Answer: Unfortunately that is the normal habit and size of most pyracanthas -- taller and leggier than we'd like! Sometimes espalier becomes a good option with this plant, especially if it is planted along the foundation and next to a walk.

Pruning can be done anytime, but in my experience a regular routine works best. To encourage branching, trim back long shoots to a point lower than where you would like the plant to branch. Then periodically cut back the tips of overly long shoots to keep the plant compact. To avoid creating a sheared look you have to trim out a few individual branches one by one, sometimes from near the base. This bit of thinning also helps keep the plant healthy by allowing air and sunlight into the center of the plant. You may have to trim it off very short the first time in order to establish the pattern you want.

If you need to do a severe pruning, do it in late winter and then be sure the plant receives adequate water and fetility in the coming growing season. With a little practice and observation, you will see how the plant responds to each pruning cut.

Good luck with your pyracantha!

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