Ever get into a prickly situation when you’re just trying to get something done? That’s exactly what’ll happen if you try to prune the aptly named firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea). Its long, sharp thorns can be downright painful if you’re trying to shape this shrub. But you can easily overlook the scratches when you’re distracted by the loads of rich orange and red fruit bursting with fall color. What’s more, the fruit lasts for months, giving you something cheerful to look at through the long, dreary winter.

Red firethorn fruit

The bright red fruit of firethorn sets gardens ablaze with color.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Firethorn fruit

It’s not hard to figure out how firethorn got its name.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Firethorn on wall

Firethorn is covered with pretty white flowers in spring and looks great against a wall.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Trellised firethorn

Young firethorn plants are often trellised in the nursery.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

You simply can’t miss firethorn in your garden. It grows pretty tall – anywhere from 6-15 feet – depending on the cultivar and its location. I’ve seen many firethorns espaliered against a house or fence, and nursery plants are often sold on trellises. They can really dress up a blank wall. (They also make wonderful “fences” if you want to keep your neighbors out of your yard.)

If it’s not trained to a trellis, firethorn grows quickly to form a shrub. It looks best when pruned a little for shape, although most owners avoid this sticky situation and let the plant grow how it will.

Come springtime, this pretty plant brings another treat for the eyes: It bears lots of white flowers. In fact, the shrub’s covered with them. (While pretty to look at, plan to keep your distance – the flowers are a little stinky.)

Firethorn is an evergreen plant hardy in zones 5-9. Harsh winters can cause them to drop some of their leaves, but that’s perfectly normal. For best results, plant these blazin’ beauties in full to part sun. And if you’ve got an area with dry soils – lucky you! These shrubs work especially well there.

There are lots of firethorn cultivars to choose from. One of the most popular is ‘Mohave’, a heavy fruiter that’s disease-resistant. ‘Mohave’ is just one of a number of plants bred at the US National Arboretum in Washington, DC, and named for Native American tribes. Other introductions include ‘Apache’, ‘Navaho’, ‘Pueblo’ and ‘Shawnee’. All have orange-red fruit and good disease resistance. If you’re looking for yellow fruit, try ‘Gold Rush’, ‘Golden Charmer’, ‘Soleil d’Or’ or ‘Teton’.

While some people avoid prickly situations, others relish them. I’m not big on conflict resolution myself, so I’ll choose dealing with the difficult-to-prune firethorn over dealing with difficult people any day. At least with firethorn, you get a beautiful addition to your garden that sets it ablaze with color come autumn, nice berries to look at through winter and nice blooms in spring!