The cotoneaster plant, related to the rose family (Rosaceae), has either glossy green or deciduous leaves and produces white flowers and red berries in the fall.
Some fast-growing species of Cotoneaster can grow to the size of small trees, but other species spread horizontally at a significantly slower rate. Depending on the kind you have, it might be appropriate for groundcovers or ornamental hedges.
Genus name: Cotoneaster
Common name: Ivy Geranium
Plant type: Deciduous or evergreen shrub
Origin: South-western China
Height: 5-7 feet
Flowering: Pink, Red, White
Propagation method: Seed and Cuttings
Soil type: Well drained
Bloom time: Late spring and early summer
Light: Full sun or partial shade
Cotoneaster has small, dark-green leaves that make an attractive backdrop for many plants. It can soften the edges of a garden or blend into its surroundings, and in spring, it bears clusters of small, fragrant flowers.
As their flowers fade, Cotoneasters put on a heavy show of fruit—sometimes completely covering the plant. Most varieties bear red berries; some keep true to type and produce yellow ones instead.
Deciduous cotoneaster bushes retain their leaves throughout the winter. Most varieties also put on a spectacular show of fall color—reddish orange, burnished red and purple hues that glow against evergreen branches.
Cultivation and History
Cotoneaster horizontalis, with its fan-like sprays of stiff branches, leaves arranged alternately, and bright orange berries, was a popular plant half a century ago—and one that could be found in most gardens along the road.
This plant was admired for its brilliant autumn colors, flowers, and berries, but no one thought it produced fruit and nuts—food for many animals. It was easy to get seedlings from other people or buy them at a garden center; furthermore, there were not too many species available in commerce.
In professional horticulture, cotoneasters are considered important group members (the shrubs). With 400 species to choose from, they offer both evergreen and deciduous shrub options.
Growing Tips for Cotoneaster plants
When choosing cotoneasters, opt for smaller plants in two- or three-liter pots rather than large ones; this way, you can grow a densely planted hedge without spending too much money. Cotoneasters grow quickly in most soils, including clay, as long as it is not waterlogged. They will also thrive in dry conditions on chalk or sand (where other plants might struggle). The plant will grow in either sun or shade, but flowers and fruit form most abundantly when it receives three hours of direct sunlight each day during its growing season.
Prostrate cotoneasters, such as Cotoneaster horizontalis, Cotoneaster dammeri, and Cotoneaster salicifolius, are valuable groundcover plants that thrive in either sun or shade. They are well-suited to gracefully arching branches embracing the contours of a bank on which an upright subject would otherwise look awkward.
Besides being suitable for hedging, the large-growing cotoneasters make an excellent tree. “Cornubia”—the most popular variety—”originally from Cornwall,” with its broad spreading branches and dark green leaves is one example.
In spring, it produces loose clusters of white flowers and is magnificent to behold when some of its semi-evergreen leaves turn gold in autumn before falling off, leaving behind large bunches of deep scarlet berries.
Large varieties, such as Cotoneaster’ ‘Cornubia” and Cotoneaster x watereri, are excellent for creating a living screen or background shrubs in wide borders. These plants can also be shaped to resemble miniature trees.
In a small garden, plants that tolerate the shade and rain shadows of walls and fences are precious. Cotoneaster franchetii, Cotoneaster x watereri, and Cotoneaster frigidus can be trained against such surfaces for color—or allowed to grow naturally for interest.
How to Grow Cotoneaster
Cotoneasters prefer a location that receives part or full sun and fertile well-draining soil. They can tolerate soils with pH levels ranging from 5 to 8. Before planting a cotoneaster, consider the shrub’s eventual size and how you plan to use the site in future years.
Plants need consistent watering once they are established. When the top inch of soil feels dry, water again—spacing seedlings 3–5 feet apart and placing seeds only a few inches from each other.
To inhibit weed growth, water plants well and then spread a thick layer of mulch around them. Weeding can become problematic as plants grow and spread, forming dense layers under the soil.
You can grow Cotoneaster in containers if you select a mature variety and choose a large enough pot to accommodate it.
Container-grown plants require more frequent watering than those planted in the ground and should be watered when the top inch of soil feels dry. (Note: this may occur sooner or later depending on plant type, location, and temperature.)
Propagation of Cotoneaster
Cotoneaster is very easy to propagate, and you can grow a new plant by cutting or seeding.
However, it can take up to 18 months for seeds to germinate and grow into mature plants. This makes cuttings the best propagation method as they yield strong stock that grows quickly—ideal characteristics for Cotoneaster breeders.
For transplanting, you may purchase container-grown or bare-root plants from garden centers and nurseries.
Seeds must be scarified and then subjected to cold stratification before germinating.
To scarify pumpkin seeds, mix a few with one-quarter cup of landscape sand in a small bowl or container. Then grind the mixture and mash it thoroughly—you’re grinding up the berries and scarifying their seeds.
To ensure good germination, mix seeds with sand, which helps Cotoneaster spread evenly on top of the compost in small pots. Water gently—do not overwater. Place the pots in a cold frame or sheltered outdoor location for winter to help keep the soil moist (not wet).
Plant out in the spring or fall after plants have had a chance to establish their roots.
Rooting stem cuttings is a faster and more reliable method of propagating plants than other means.
To take cuttings from evergreen plants, you should harvest semi-hardwood stems in late summer. For deciduous shrubs, choose softwood stems in midsummer.
Take six-inch-long cuttings and remove leaves from the bottom third of each stem. To enhance rooting, scrape the bottom two inches of a stem just enough to remove its bark.
Cuttings should be dipped in rooting hormone, shaken off to remove excess hormone, and placed two or three inches deep into small pots containing well-draining compost or starter soil mix.
Place the cuttings in a sheltered spot, and water them lightly. Keep the soil moist but not wet throughout the winter; plant out when roots are established in the spring.
If you have bought a container plant from a nursery or rooted your cuttings, the best time to transplant is in the fall, but it will work just as well in the spring.
To transplant a Cotoneaster, dig a hole that is as wide and deep as the root ball. When planting, add one to two shovelfuls of organic matter, such as aged compost, leaf mold, or well-rotted manure, into the hole.
For faster, more robust root growth, add a tablespoon of bone meal to each container; this helps. Use two or three tablespoons for large plants in pots or ground beds (over 12 inches wide). If your soil is too dense, you can improve the drainage by adding one to two shovelfuls of landscape sand or pea gravel.
Gently remove the plant from its container, then separate any matted roots with your fingers. Place plants so that the crown of the root ball is at ground level, and rotate them so their best side faces out if they are growing against a fence or wall.
Backfill the hole with soil and tamp it down. Regularly water your newly planted trees during their first year to help them get established.
Pruning and Maintenance
You can prune cotoneasters that grow as ground cover to keep the growth dense and not leggy; however, small trees do not need regular maintenance.
Types of Cotoneaster
Cotoneaster hedge is a less widely known plant than the more common, sprawling variety. It has a denser, upright habit and tolerates pruning well, so it’s often used as an ornamental hedge or privacy screen. It has glossy, dark green foliage like other cotoneasters. It bears small clusters of pink flowers in spring to early summer.
The plants produce classic, pom-shaped red, purple, and blackberries that birds love. After flowering, the cotoneasters are excellent for pollinator gardens as they attract bees and butterflies.
Hedge cotoneasters grow best in soils with good drainage but can tolerate alkaline soils.
Pros Salt- and wind-resistant characteristics make it a good choice as a hedge or border. It can grow to be 6–10 feet (2–3 meters) tall when left untrimmed, with an oval shape that is rounded at the ends.
Cranberry Cotoneaster is a dense, broad upright shrub or tall groundcover from China that produces red fruits in the fall and persists into winter. Plant in sun or partial shade, and water regularly to keep the soil moist. The spreading habit of this plant makes it an excellent choice as a ground cover when provided with adequate moisture.
It makes a spectacular display when planted along the tops of walls or in large planters. Its cascading habit is best viewed from above, as its flowers are small and hidden by leaves. It tolerates a range of site conditions except for wet ones: it could do better in hot, humid climates like those that prevail further south than Virginia.
The shrub’s showy red fruits appear in the fall after spring flowers; its small glossy green leaves add additional interest. The plant will grow 3 feet tall and 5–6 feet wide.
This is a densely branched, evergreen shrub that grows in an arching shape; the surface of each leaf has a silvery sheen when young—as fine hairs appear on them.
White flowers give way to bright red in the fall and remain on the shrub well into winter. Hardy in all but the coldest British climates, it’s best grown as a solitary plant.
Cotoneaster rhytidophyllus is an evergreen cotoneaster with large, pointed leaves and downy felting underneath. It produces clusters of white flowers in late spring to early summer, followed by orange fruit that ripens to bright red. It grows best as a shrub or small tree throughout most of the British Isles, but it can also be trained into larger free-standing specimens (depending on the climate).
Tibetan cotoneaster is a small evergreen shrub that looks beautiful planted together in areas where it can spread out—such as beneath trees or around difficult-to-grow plants. The glossy leaves are small and dark green, while the tiny white flowers give way to large, orange-red berries that last.
Cotoneaster frigidus ‘Cornubia’
Cotoneaster frigidus ‘Cornubia’ is a very large cotoneaster that can be kept as a bush or trained into an ornamental tree.
It bears masses of dense clusters of white flowers in summer, which ripen into large, vivid red berries long after other autumnal deciduous plants have lost theirs.
The bearberry cotoneaster is a low-growing shrub that, under ideal conditions, can reach 1 foot tall and 6 feet wide. Its common name comes from the fact that bears eat berries as food. The vine has a central root system and spreads by rooting to form new shoots along the ground. Over time, this can create thickets of plants.
Due to its extensive rooting abilities, Bearberry cotoneaster is easily propagated by layering. This can be done in the fall. In addition, softwood cuttings taken early in the summer tend to produce viable plants.
May is the month of white spring flowers and, later on, red fruits that remain throughout the winter. Fall color ranges from reddish-bronze to purple; the tree prefers well-drained soil but can thrive in most loam types.
The Rockspray Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis) is a coarse, dense shrub that reaches up to 2-3 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide. In its southernmost region, it is semi-evergreen.
It grows best in soils that are well-drained, loose, and moist. It will tolerate poor soil conditions. Once established, the plant will be drought tolerant but prefers somewhat cooler temperatures; it may not perform well in locations with hot summers south of zone 7
The spring blooms give way to abundant showy red fruits. The reddish-purple fall colors are attractive in areas where it is deciduous.
Cotoneasters are easy to care for when placed in an ideal location. If you want to grow one indoors, placing it near a window and among other tall plants is the best way to get started.
This plant will grow in full sun to part shade and does well with fertile, well-drained soil. However, it can tolerate almost any terrain—as long as the ground isn’t too wet/damp.
Cotoneasters grow well in moist but well-drained soil. They should be planted in the fall or early spring when the soil is still warm enough for roots to take hold before winter sets in. Erosion control and sound soil management are topics you should consider if your property has poor soil. To plant a bare-root tree, dig a hole three times as wide and deep as the root ball—firmly pack in organic matter such as well-rotted manure or garden compost when planting.
Although cotoneasters are known for their ability to survive in various conditions, they still require some care.
Water your plants enough to keep the soil consistently moist (rather than letting it get soggy) but not so much that you have puddles forming on top of the dirt.
Temperature and Humidity
They grow well in cool weather and tolerate freezing temperatures but thrive best in slightly cooler conditions.
Because Creeping Cotoneaster is a spreading plant, it can be fertilized with an annual application of commercial sludge or compost. These applications should extend at least 1-1/2 feet beyond where branches end and never touch the plant itself.
Managing common Pests & Plant Diseases
Deer and rabbits usually leave Cotoneaster alone, but a few pests and diseases can afflict it.
Aphids and armored scale insects, such as oystershell scale, are occasional pests in summer.
Aphids have soft bodies but can be destructive to plants. They suck sap from stems and leaves, leaving an unsightly trail of honeydew behind them as they feed.
You can control aphids by blasting them off plants with a strong stream of water or introducing beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lacewings into the garden.
Plant-destroying scale insects appear as oval or round plates of various colors on stems and green foliage. To kill these pests, apply neem oil in late winter or release beneficial ladybugs, lacewings, and predatory wasps during summer.
Fire blight, a disease caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora and transmitted through contact with infected plants or plant parts, can cause severe damage to limbs or entire plants.
In spring, watch for small pockmarks on branches, stems, and twigs that exude a light-colored sap. Later in the season, those areas will turn black and wither away. The entire plant will need to be destroyed if a plant is heavily infected.
Powdery mildew appears on leaves, stems, and branches as a powder-like substance. However, it is not nearly as destructive or widespread as fire blight.
Placing your plants in a sunny location and spacing them as recommended by the seed packet will prevent powdery mildew from attacking.
For a more formal appearance, plants can be tightly clipped into hedges. For a looser look, they may be left to grow naturally—or some combination of the two techniques might work best for individual species or groups within an overall garden design.
Prostrate cultivars are excellent for stabilizing terrain on hillsides, banks, and slopes. They spread through self-layering stems, which build up large colonies.
Upright cultivars can be shaped into specimens and used to create dramatic statement gardens. They’re also fantastic for growing bonsai trees.
Cotoneaster is a genus of deciduous and evergreen shrubs, making it one of the most versatile plants for gardeners. It has wide varieties that vary in size. ‘Royal Robe’ is a prevalent species due to its habit of forming dense colonies that spread rapidly. The leaves first emerge red or black in spring and then give way to small white flowers with five petals in summer. The branches grow upright, followed by red berries in fall. When planted on banks or slopes, the graceful arching branches lend an elegant shape to your garden’s design. These shrubs are hardy and easy to grow, requiring little care beyond pruning off invasive branches every so often. They can be found at nurseries today, followed by red or black varieties and purple in the fall.
There’s no doubt that Cotoneasters are a beautiful addition to any garden. Not only are they aesthetically lovely, but they smell good, and they taste great, too! You can grow and care for Cotoneaster in pots or in your yard, so you have nothing to lose with this plant.
Cotoneasters develop as drought-tolerant, low-growing plants that are easy to grow and care for, so you should be able to find something that will fit your needs no matter what they are. If you decide to grow cotoneasters, then expect to be treated with beautiful, followed by bright colors and fragrant small pink flowers. The plants are also durable and easy to maintain, so you won’t have to worry about them taking up too much space in your garden.
Frequently asked questions?
Is Cotoneaster a good plant?
Cotoneaster makes an excellent ground cover or upright shrub. Its rich green leaves, colorful be, carries, and dense habits make it a perfect choice for the garden year-round.
How tall does Cotoneaster get?
Cotoneaster is slow to grow at first and can develop a growth rate of up to 18 inches per year over time.
Is Cotoneaster an evergreen?
Cotoneaster is a dense, arching evergreen shrub with silvery-hairy young leaves. Its small white flowers give way to bright red berries that last well into winter.
What is the lifespan of a cotoneaster?
It sluggishly paces and can live for up to 30 years when conditions are right.
What grows well with Cotoneaster?
Cotoneasters are hardy ground covers that look good in rock gardens and perennial borders. They also look nice when planted next to taller shrubs such as lilacs or spireas.