A little while ago I wrote about the great attributes of the groundcover type cotoneasters, but the upright shrub types are equally useful for their fall colour, flowers, fruit display and attraction to fruit-eating birds. Read on to see which types of taller cotoneater might be suitable for your region.
A short while ago I wrote an article on the ‘Groundcover Cotoneasters...Multipurpose Shrubs'. In that article I discussed the attributes of the five main low-growing cotoneasters, which included C. adpressus, C. apiculatus, C. dammeri, C. horizontalis and C. microphyllus. However, with a genus containing some 70 or so species, there are, of course, many upright-growing cotoneaster that offer many of the same attributes as the groundcover types, mainly showy flowers, attractive fruit display and excellent fall colour. These upright forms are even better for birds than the low types, as the fruit allows easier access. Several of the uprights are suitable for hedging. Most of the larger cotoneaster reach at least 2 m but some can exceed 4m. There are many ornamental upright cotoneasters but most of them are not as hardy as the low types. For gardeners in zones 4-6, we have less variety to choose from. In zone 7-9, there are quite a number of lovely taller cotoneasters.
Culturally, they are tolerant to poor soils, urban conditions and several, to drought. Full sun will give the heaviest fruit display but many will grow happily in part-shade. The soil must be well-drained as they will not tolerate soggy soil. Liming in acidic-soil areas is often beneficial as most cotoneasters are native to limestone regions. The main disease is fireblight, so if that disease is prevalent in your area, then perhaps you might look for an alternative to cotoneasters. They are attacked by a variety of insects but insecticidal soaps seem to be effective. The species about to be described are all native to the Himalayas and China.
For northern gardeners the most important species is C. ludicus or the Peking cotoneaster. This species has spiny, rugose, dark green foliage. The flowers are pinkish, solitary and rather insignificant. The fruit is black and again, not very noticeable. The main claim to fame for the Peking cotoneaster is its ability to be pruned into an excellent hedge. As a hedge, it may be maintained at under 1 m or allowed to reach 3 m. In fall, the leaves turn fiery orange. This is perhaps the hardiest species, good to zone 3, making it one of the few cotoneasters that are hardy for the mid-west and prairie provinces.
Some deatils of Cotoneaster lucidus
The spreading cotoneaster, C. divaricatus, is another reasonably hardy species which may be pruned as a hedge, grown as a screen or a stand-alone specimen. The leaves are very much like those of C. horizontalis; small and roundish. The solitary, pinkish flowers are not very noticeable but the fruit are bright red. The fall colour is brilliant red as well. This species will reach 2 m and is hardy to zone 4.
The next three species are relatively rare in North America but more common in Europe. However, all three are growing well in my area of St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada (zone 5b) so should do well elsewhere in North America if you can find a source. All three are hardy to zone 5. The first is C. bullatus or hollyberry cotoneaster. This species will reach 4 m forming quite a large shrub. The foliage is shiny, rugouse and deep green but first emerges a glossy plum colour! The flowers are white and produced in clusters and later develop into clusters of showy, relatively large deep red berries which persist through most of the winter. The fall foliage is shades of red, orange and purple. The many-flowered cotoneaster, C. multiflorus, forms a rounded bush to 4 m. The white flowers are produced in small clusters along the upper sides of the somewhat pendulous branches, lending this shrub the look of a giant bridal's-wreath spirea, Spirea thunbergii. The flowers later become clusters of bright orange-red berries and the fall colour is also bright red. The hairy cotoneaster, C. tomentosus, has the same habit as the many-flowered cotoneaster except it only grows to 3 m and the leaves are fuzzy, silvery-green, especially on the bottom. Flowers, fruit and fall colour are much the same as for C. multiflorus. Although I have not tried it in my zone 5b, the littleleaf cotoneaster, C. integrifolius, should also be suitable. This species is the smallest of these uprights, topping at about 1.2 m. The plant looks much like a smaller version of C. tomentosus as their leaves are also somewhat hairy.
Some details of Cotoneaster bullatus
Some details of Cotoneaster tomentosus
Some details of Cotoneaster integrifolius
The next group of cotoneaster are all evergreen species that are only hardy to zone 7, maybe zone 6 if planted in a very sheltered area. The most common is the willowleaf cotoneaster, C. salicifolius. The wild species may reach 5 m but there are several hybrid cultivars between the willowleaf and bearberry cotoneaster which stay under 1 m and may be used as groundcovers. These hybrids look very much like the bearberry cotoneaster except the flowers and fruit are formed in small clusters rather than solitary. These hybrids include ‘Repens', ‘Gnom' and ‘Autumn Fire'. The true willowleaf cotoneaster has narrow leaves 5-8 cm in length and clusters of white flowers develop into bright red, very showy berries. The hybrids and the species are rated for zone 6. The milkflower or red clusterberry, C. lacteus, looks like an evergreen version of the hollyberry cotoneaster with rugous, deep green leaves. However, the flowers are showier than C. bullatus and the fruit, smaller but more numerous. It is rated for zone 7. There are a series of named hybrids collectively lumped under C. X watereri which appear to be crosses between C. salicifolius, C. frigidus and C. rugosa. All have relatively large leaves and may be semi-deciduous in zone 6-7. Height and fruit colour vary with the hybrid. ‘Cornubia' is tree-like and reaches to 6 m with spectacular clusters of bright red berries. ‘Rothschildianus' has yellow fruit while ‘Pink Champagne' has yellow, pink-tinted fruit. ‘Salmon Spray' has salmon-red fruit. Unfortunately, these hybrids are rarely available in North America even though they are quite common in the UK.
From left to right are Cotoneaster salicifolius, C. lacteus (flower and fruit) and C X watereri 'Rothschildianus'
There are certainly more tall growing cotoneaster than those mentioned above. Essentially all the species offer some merit to the gardener. It's simply a matter of tracking them down. So viist your nearest nursery to see which species and hybrids they offer!
I'd like to thank htop for the use of Cotoneaster integrifolius pictures and growin for the use of C. X watereri 'Rothschildianus' .
About Todd Boland
I reside in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. I work as a research horticulturist at the Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden. I am one of the founding members of the Newfoundland Wildflower Society and the current chair of the Newfoundland Rock Garden Society. My garden is quite small but I pack it tight! Outdoors I grow mostly alpines, bulbs and ericaceous shrubs. Indoors, my passion is orchids. When not in the garden, I'm out bird watching, a hobby that has gotten me to some lovely parts of the world.