photograph by L.A. Jackson

From pumpkins dotting the fields to leaves blazing on the trees, orange is November’s signature color. Ripening berries on pyracantha bushes across the state sport the seasonal hue.

Pyracantha favors North Carolina’s environmental conditions. Although this ornamental plant likes well-drained soil, it still flourishes in heavy clay. Pyracantha also endures hot, dry conditions. In fact, for best berry production, it demands full sun. Pyracantha grows aggressively in the garden — it can reach 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide — but regular pruning keeps it manageable. Cutting it back slightly in late fall prepares pyracantha for next year’s growing season and provides plenty of fresh, fiery clippings for indoor holiday arrangements.

When scoping out a location for pyracantha, gardeners must keep in mind its ability to stretch (up to two feet a year) and its sharp barbs, which give it the nickname firethorn. It’s best not to plant this species near entryways or garden paths.

Pyracantha is generally trouble free, but lace bugs and spider mites pose potential problems. Diseases threaten occasionally, particularly scab and fire blight. Both diseases affect the leaves and berries, causing them to discolor and fall off. Pruning away the infected areas is the best treatment for afflicted plants. Choosing disease-resistant cultivars, such as ‘Mohave,’ ‘Rutgers,’ ‘Shawnee,’ ‘Red Elf,’ ‘Apache,’ ‘Teton,’ and ‘Pueblo,’ prevents later trouble.

Despite its thorns and hassles, pyracantha earns its spot in the garden every autumn when those bright orange berries accentuate nature’s palette.

This story was published on

L.A. Jackson is an editor, writer, and lecturer. Jackson lives in Apex.