Looking out across the garden in the autumn sunshine on this November morning it is the Cotoneasters and Pyracantha that are some of the star plants of the moment. Their red and orange berries give a spark of colour to the yellow autumn hues of the hedgerow trees.
Perhaps rather over used in municipal planting, especially Cotoneaster, there are many interesting cultivars and species to choose from both to add interest in the garden and for use in floral arrangements.
For an added bonus these shrubs bring the garden wildlife right up to the house windows. It is such a pleasure watching the birds feeding on the Pyracantha. This morning in just a few minutes we saw a pair of the most beautiful Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) in their red plumage, a Dunnock (Prunella modularis) and a Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) all feeding together. Blackbirds (Turdus merula) and Redwings (Turdus iliacus) are also regular visitors whilst the Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) shelter on the branches whilst busily feeding on the insects on the window panes and under the roof tiles.
Varieties in the garden at Waverley
We are not entirely sure of the species and varieties we have here at Honey Pot Flowers so please feel free to comment if you think we have got the identification wrong.
Cotoneaster Cornubia (Cotoneaster X watereri ‘Cornubia’)
This is quite a large fast growing shrub with dramatic arching branches and long willow like leaves. It has large showy clusters of red berries that stay on the plant much later than the ‘wild’ types of Cotoneaster that we have around the garden. It is semi-evergreen and has glossy dark green lanceolate shaped leaves which are clean and free from disease.
Cotoneaster Rothschildianus (Cotoneaster salicifoilus ‘Rothschildianus’)
Very similar in habit to Cornubia but has creamy-yellow berries. It is semi-evergreen in our garden with a lovely arching habit. The berries hold well.
Related to the Cotoneasters, these plants come in a wide range of colours and the name of our variety is lost in the mists of time. Ours has orange/red berries and masses of white flowers in early June. By pure luck we have a dog rose climbing up amongst it and the pretty pink flowers of the rose complement the Pyracantha flowers wonderfully. It is a big plant and needs regular cutting back (probably more cutting back than we actually get around to) but it has vicious spikes and needs carefully handling. It is not something that you can put through the shredder and spread on the flower beds as mulch as the thorns remain and get in the dogs’ feet.
Cotonesters are very useful as foliage throughout the year and can add that additional Christmas feel in November and December. Their long arching habit and well behaved upward facing foliage make them extremely useful in large floral arrangements for large table centrepieces, door wreaths, church archways and pedestal arrangements.
Ideally the stems should be cut fresh in the morning. You should slit the stem (about 1 inch) before conditioning for 24-48 hours in clean fresh water with flower food if you have it. Slitting the stem helps the water uptake. Even if the stem tips drop at first they will soon perk up over a 24 hour period. Refresh the water every 24 hours if you are not using immediately.
Unlike Pyracantha and Berberis, which are very spikey and need to have the spines removed before using, Cotoneaster stems are thornless and therefore much less time consuming (and painful) to work with.
If you want to get to the berries before the birds you can pick them and keep them in water for a good few weeks in a cool place. Remember to keep changing the water every few days.
Origin: According to Wikipedia Pyrancantha coccinae ranges from North Eastern Spain to Northern Iran whilst the Cotoneasters originate from areas across temperate Asia, Europe and North Africa.
Hardiness: According to the RHS, Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ and Pyracantha are graded as H6 (Hardy in all of UK and northern europe -20 °C to -15 °C)
We have always had great success in propagating Cotoneasters by taking hardwood cutting in the Autumn. Take about a 9 inch cutting (about a pencil thinkness) from mature wood, cutting cleanly just above a node at the top and just below a node at the bottom. Cut the stem at an angle at the top to help you remember which way up the cutting needs to be planted.
Put the cutting(s) the right way up either into a nursery bed in the ground or into a deep pot filled with a well drained, loam based compost (the deep rose flowerpots are ideal for this). You can put a number of cuttings into a single pot. The cuttings should be at least two-thirds of their length under the soil.
Water in well and place them outside where you can look after them. They will stay in the pot or ground for about 12 months before you pot them on. Just let them grow leaves and roots during the summer, watering as necessary, and then pot up in the autumn into individual pots or if the roots are big enough into the garden.
Offer any spare ones to your friends! You will have many more than you need.
Pruning in the right way at the right time is critical to maintaining the flowers and ultimately the berries.
With Pyracantha the flowers (and subsequently the berries) are formed on short spur growths on the previous year’s growth. Any new growth in mid to late summer will need to be left to mature in order to produce the next seasons flowers and berries.
With Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ it is the open branching structure that is so attractive and it is probably best to avoid pruning excessively other than to remove wayward or damaged branches that look out of place. If you want to reduce the size or thin out the tree we typically use the ‘one-third’ technique on many shrubs. Each year you remove one-third of the older stems leaving the majority intact. The next year you remove another one-third of the old stems (leaving any new ones) and the same again in the third year. In this way you slow reduce the size of the shrub each year but it will still flower and look good in the garden.
We haven’t managed to capture footage of the male bullfinch yet but here are a couple of clips of a female Bullfinch and Redwing enjoying the Pyracantha berries in mid-November.
RHS “Pruning” by Christopher Bricknell (ISBN 1-85732-902-3)