Cotoneaster Pruning Guide – When Should You Trim Cotoneaster Shrubs

By: Teo Spengler

Cotoneaster comes in many different shapes and sizes, from creeping varieties to upright shrubs. Cotoneaster pruning is different depending on the type of plant you have in your backyard, although the goal for all varieties is to follow its natural form. If you want to learn how to prune cotoneaster, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for tips on cutting back cotoneaster.

About Cotoneaster Pruning

Cotoneaster is not one of those shrubs that requires pruning to develop vigorous, strong branches. In fact, the shorter varieties of cotoneaster are creepers, without upright branches. To trim cotoneasters that are groundcover types, you want to keep the brakes on. Don’t get carried away with cotoneaster pruning here. Only dead or diseased branches should be removed, or those that detract from the natural symmetry of the plant.

Some types of cotoneaster are taller than creepers but still very short shrubs. Trim cotoneaster that is low-growing by removing a few of the oldest branches. Pruning a cotoneaster in this manner is best accomplished in spring.

If you want to try cutting back cotoneaster varieties that are upright, you have more options. Still, you should always use a light hand when pruning a cotoneaster. The upright shrubs have attractive natural shapes with beautifully arching branches. Dramatic or drastic cotoneaster pruning will destroy its beauty.

How to Prune Cotoneaster

When you start pruning a cotoneaster that is either a medium or a tall upright variety, be sure you know why you are pruning. These shrubs are most attractive as specimen plants when left virtually un-pruned, maintaining their flowing shape.

Prune to enhance the shrub’s natural form, not to re-shape it. It is perfectly fine to take out dead and diseased branches and to trim damaged branches to healthy wood. Trim cotoneaster in this way whenever you notice the problem.

All other significant pruning should be done in spring before flowering, and can be done as early as February. At this time you can trim cotoneaster’s longer, awkward branches back to side branches. Prune the branches just above new buds.

If you are wondering how to prune cotoneaster that appears to be overly dense, cut a few of the oldest branches. Pick branches in the center of the shrub and prune back to ground level.

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How to Trim Cotoneaster

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Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp.) includes both creeping and upright varieties, as well as deciduous and evergreen plants. Most species grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8, and are valued for their gently arching branches, tiny white or pink flowers and red berries in the fall. Cotoneaster looks best when allowed to take its natural arching form. Use a light hand when pruning because overzealous pruning will destroy its natural shape. The best time for pruning is in early spring or immediately after the plants have flowered.

Prune out any diseased branches. Cotoneaster is susceptible to fire blight, which causes blackened tips. Cut these tips back 12 inches past the diseased portions. Sterilize pruning shears in a solution of one part chlorine bleach to nine parts water to prevent the spread of the disease.

Cut back any long, awkward branches to a side branch. Make the cut 1/4-inch above a new bud.

Cut old branches out of the middle of the plant if it becomes too dense. Cut these branches back to ground level.

Cotoneasters are the 'super plant' of 2021, so how do you grow them?

A new RHS science paper found that Cotoneaster franchetii is the latest ‘super plant’ to help boost the environment and improve human health

Thanks to findings from a recent Royal Horticultural Society study, Cotoneaster franchetii is being hailed as the latest 'super plant' of 2021.

While investigating the effectiveness of hedges as air pollution barriers, researchers discovered that in traffic hot-spots, cotoneasters (a genus of flowering plants in the rose family) are at least 20 per cent more effective at soaking up pollution compared to other plant species.

In November 2018, the British government announced that poor air quality was the largest environmental risk to UK public health, and that the cost of health impacts of air pollution was likely to exceed estimates of up to £20 billion. Findings from another RHS survey of more than 2,000 people found that air pollution affects one in three Brits.

"On major city roads with heavy traffic we’ve found that the plant species with more complex denser canopies, rough and hairy leaves, such as cotoneaster, were the most effective," said Dr Tijana Blanusa, RHS principal horticultural scientist and research lead for the study.

Commonly found in gardens across the UK, the Palaearctic native is a tough, evergreen shrub displaying small and oval-shaped leaves on arching branches. When flowering in May and June, the five-petalled flowers are tinted light pink and cream while in autumn, the branches are laden with deep orange-red berries.

These useful shrubs can vary in size and height. There are evergreen, semi-evergreen and deciduous varieties some are prostrate ground-covers, while others grow to be substantial shrubs, or even small trees. Many can make useful hedging plants, while others can be trained flat against a wall a few can be grown as weeping standards.

Matthew Pottage, curator of RHS Wisley and shrub expert, was happy to hear the news. "Cotoneaster is such an easy plant group and can be spotted in gardens across the UK," he says. "They're unfussy. I find that planting them in full sun yields the most flowers and berries but I've known some to tolerate part-shade, too. You can leave the shrub to do its thing most of the time if you're struggling with a cotoneaster, you're probably gardening on concrete!"

Pottage recommends planting the shrub in spring or autumn although you can also plant them in summer. If you do the latter, "simply keep the roots watered through a dry spell," he says. When pruning, which you only need to do if the plant has outgrown its space, he advises cutting the main branches right back to the centre of the plant. "Don't be afraid of causing damage. It will grow back perfectly fine."

Cotoneaster salicifolius 'Pink Champagne' is a favourite of his for its small white and pink flowers in spring and peach-coloured fruit in autumn. "It has a lovely spread and branch structure," he says. "Often the fruit hangs on until the end of autumn and early winter." While Cotoneaster lacteus, with its silvery white underside to its leaves and bright red berries, is another popular choice.

How to Prune Cotoneaster

Clean pruners or garden shears thoroughly between each use. The will prevent the possibility of passing disease or bacteria from one plant to another.

Cotoneasters are popular shrubs for home landscaping. They’re easy to grow, making them ideal for the novice gardener. Cotoneasters are available in a variety of sizes from two-foot border plants to six-foot windscreens, but all will bloom in late spring or early summer. In fall and winter, the shrub will be covered with masses of red berries that will brighten dark winter days and keep hungry birds happy for weeks. Although cotoneasters usually don’t need drastic pruning, regular maintenance will keep them looking their best.

Remove all dead or damaged branches in early spring, and prune out about one-third of the old growth. This will result in healthy, young branches and robust blooms during the summer.

  • Cotoneasters are popular shrubs for home landscaping.
  • Cotoneasters are available in a variety of sizes from two-foot border plants to six-foot windscreens, but all will bloom in late spring or early summer.

Remove any droopy branches or branches that are brushing against the ground. If these are left alone, they will eventually develop roots that will grow into new bushes, or suckers, that will draw water and nutrients away from the original plant. If the branches have already begun to take root, pull them out.

Give cotoneaster a light pruning any time of year. Shape the plant by removing any longer branches that are growing above the rest or that make the bush look lopsided, and get rid of any stems that look weak or damaged. This will keep the shrub in an attractive shape and will prevent the need for more drastic pruning later. It will also improve air circulation to the plant.

  • Remove any droopy branches or branches that are brushing against the ground.
  • Shape the plant by removing any longer branches that are growing above the rest or that make the bush look lopsided, and get rid of any stems that look weak or damaged.

Prune cotoneaster after it’s finished blooming for the summer. Cut the just-flowered branches down by half and cut the oldest, tallest growth clear down to within 10 inches of the ground. Remove any branches that are growing inward instead of branching outward, as well as any branches that are rubbing together. This will ensure that younger growth will be healthy and vigorous.

Watch the video: Coral Beauty Cotoneaster - Erosion Control, Flowers, Berries, and Birds

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