Miss Congeniality

Cotoneaster's Exposed Bones in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Cotoneaster’s exposed bones (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

For versatility, functionality and season long interest, the cotoneaster is a shrub that receives accolades in my book.  Coming in a range of shapes and sizes, from compact dwarf to sprawling and gnarly, cotoneaster can fit any space or design scheme you have in mind.  This sun worshipper is a pretty fast grower in most soil types, as well as deer resistant for those with four legged visitors.

What I love about cotoneater (pronounced ka-toe-nee-aster), is everything. Besides being an easy growing shrub that weaves around and between its garden companions, happily mingling with everyone; cotoneaster is effortlessly snipped back into place if it gets out of line. I consider this shrub to be one of the simplest and most interesting forms to prune and experiment with.  As an anchor, you couldn’t find a more accommodating character.  With little prompting, you can even train the branches to bend around a corner and embrace other neighboring plants.

Cotoneaster Horizontalis and Garden Mates in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Cotoneaster horizontalis and Garden Mates (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Although cotoneaster itself is an asset for all four seasons, combining other plants or shrubs gives it an added intensity.  Because it turns cherry to burgundy red in fall, gold foliaged evergreens make smashing partners and are quite tolerant of cotoneaster’s clinging nature.  I insert daylilies or mountain mint in opportunistic openings, allowing them to meld together over time, which results in pleasant surprises popping up throughout the summer months.

Cotoneaster Tom Thumb's Fall Color in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Cotoneaster Tom Thumb’s Fall Color (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

There are some vast differences in cultivars, so consider each one carefully to produce the effect you’re looking for.  Some of the most popular selections (Chinese natives) for zone 5 hardiness are: Cranberry cotoneaster (Cotoneaster apiculatus) a denser shrub, averaging 3′ tall by 8′ wide, and perfect in a larger garden setting, its petite cousin cotoneaster apiculatus ‘Tom Thumb’ can be placed at the front of the border or centered in a rock garden, Creeping cotoneaster (Cotoneaster adpressus) is perfect for lower maneuvers at 1′ high, happily holding a bank or draping down a wall with its 6′ reach, and Rockspray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis) is the fastest grower, reaching 5′ high and 8′ wide.

Burgundy Cotoneaster with Gold Cypress in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Burgundy Cotoneaster with Gold Cypress (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

In the spring, cotoneaster’s tiny foliage quickly covers the twining limbs in rich shades of green.  Insignificant white flowers form soon after, turning to crimson berries that enlarge and become brighter through the summer.  As autumn’s cooler temperatures blown in, the petite leaves turn rich shades of garnet, a fine pairing with those dazzling berries.  But, there’s more!

Cotoneaster's Winter Structure in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Cotoneaster’s Winter Structure (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

The showy berries tend to hold well into winter, providing a great snack for our feathered friends.  And, although the leaves have fallen, the tightly woven branches still give adequate protection for local birds and other small critters as well. So, where’s the winter interest, you ask?  Why it’s right there in the twisted, weeping, probing branches wound around in front of you.  There is such beauty in the symmetry, the carefree form, the dense basket of contorted limbs braided together naturally.  As a year-round habitat for wildlife, with intriguing stature and minimal care requirements, all I can say is: What’s not to love ♥

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