Gorse, superb flower shrub

Gorse is a fantastic shrub with abundant bright yellow spring blooming.

Gorse facts summary

Name – Ulex europeus
Family – Fabaceae
Type – shrub

Height – 3 to 10 feet (1 to 3 m)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – ordinary, sandy

Foliage – evergreen
Flowering – March to June
Hedge type – thorny, defensive

Planting and pruning it is easy and will let you grow magnificent flowers in your garden.

Planting gorse

We recommend planting gorse during fall mainly to enable proper root expansion.

Planting in spring, fall, winter and even summer is possible for specimens purchased in containers or grown from seed.

  • Planting seedlings can be done all year
  • But avoid periods of freezing and strong heat.

Gorse hardiness

Gorse is extremely hardy. It can cope with winters where temperatures drop to around -20°F (-30°C).

  • Young seedlings, however, need to be protected if temperatures reach 15°F (-10°C).
  • Indeed, although some would survive, dieback would be extensive.

Exposure and soil type for gorse

  • Gorse prefers sunbathed locations to bloom well.
  • It resists wind very well and salty ocean spray, too.
  • It appreciates well drained soil, even if poor.

It will grow well in any type of soil, and can even colonize patches of heath. You can combine gorse with heath plants if you so wish.

Gorse, with all its spiky sharp leaves, is great as a protective hedge.

Planting a gorse hedge

If you’re planting a hedge, provide for at least 3 feet (1 meter) from one specimen to the next.

  • This will do for hedges about 2 yards tall.
  • For lower hedges, bring the plants closer together, down to 1 or 2 feet (30 to 60 cm).

Planting a field of gorse

If the area you live in has wide expanses that were previously overgrown with gorse, you can restore that amazing landscape by planting gorse shrubs again!

Per acre (half-hectare) of gorse, the end goal is about 1 shrub every yard or meter, so 70 x 70 = 4900 shrubs. That’s a lot! You have two options:

Sowing indoors and transplanting saplings

  • Either grow seedlings in nursery pots and plant them in fall, or spring if it freezes below 15°F (-10°C).
  • Germination rates average 80% when seeds are well prepared (see below). For an acre, you’d need over 6000 seeds sown for a final count of around 5000.
  • Given the number, quite a lot of space and effort is needed.
  • Start sowing in summer/fall.
  • Transplant in spring directly at final density (every yard/meter).

Sowing directly in the plot (more effective)

  • Perform direct sowing in the plot directly (requires tilling beforehand to clear out the land). This is the most efficient option.
  • To account for losses, sow in seed holes a foot ½ apart (50 cm), with 2 to 3 seeds in each hole. Per acre, this is 11,000 seed holes, so total 22 to 33,000 seeds are needed. 10,000 seeds is very light and will only weigh about two ounces (50 grams).
  • If you want to go faster, perform broadcast sowing instead of seed holes. Rake over the seeds after spreading to bury them somewhat (half-an-inch or 1-2cm deep is fine).
  • Do this mid-fall. Come spring, they will sprout.
  • Weed or mulch just around the seedlings to keep them free from competition. Cut back or break the tips of whatever pioneer plants develop fastest (birch, for example).
  • Next spring (after their first winter as saplings), thin to keep the most vigorous sapling in each hole. In colder parts, winter will have already done that work for you.
  • In year 4, if you feel they’re too close together, you can pull out any extras so that around 2 or 3 feet separate each plant. This last thinning is optional, since dominant specimens will naturally takeover weaklings in time.

Once you’ve got a plot of gorse going, getting seeds isn’t a problem: a single acre (half-hectare) of mature gorse will release 50 million seeds every year!

Gorse covering a hillside along the sea.

Germinating gorse seeds

Harvesting gorse pods

As a member of the Fabaceae family, gorse produces seed pods. You can pick them when they start to dry.

  • Harvest before the pods open.
  • Dry them in a cool, dry place with a cloth on top of them.
  • The cloth is needed to catch the seeds, since dried pods burst open! Gorse is one of the plants that propel their seeds.

Germination of gorse seeds

Gorse seeds are very hard. Only one in ten will germinate naturally if sown immediately after collection.

There are four main ways of getting enough seedlings and increasing germination success.

  • Sow many seeds. If you want five bushes, sow 50 seeds! Thinning will get rid of any excess seedlings.
  • Soften the hull with boiling water. Drop the seeds in boiling water for 30 seconds. Pour the water out, catching the seeds in a sieve. Cool immediately with tap water at room temperature. Quickest method by far.
  • Scarification. This means to scratch the hull with sandpaper. You can also rub each seed on a stone or on concrete. Tedious for more than a dozen seeds.
  • Waiting. Natural fluctuation of heat and moisture will weaken the hull and free the dormant seedling. Usually seeds will sprout within two or three years. Gorse has been said to germinate even after 70 years! This is the care-free patient option.

After heat-softening and/or scarification, seeds should sprout after a month.

Once you’ve got seedlings, you can plant them in any season except if freezing or hot drought.

  • If planting them in summer,  remember to water abundantly the first year.

Pruning and caring for gorse

It isn’t really a requirement to prune, you can let your shrub develop naturally without pruning it.

If you wish to reduce the branches or reshape your gorse, wait for the blooming to end.

Regarding maintenance, let us say that gorse is a shrub that is so easy-going that it shouldn’t cause you any work at all after planting.

  • Note: very thorny! Wear thick gloves!

Pests and diseases known to affect gorse

There isn’t much that can damage gorse – it’s a very resilient plant!

Occasionally, spiders may weave their webs around it to capture the many insects that the plant harbors and cares for. Note, this is different from red spider mite, which doesn’t much affect outdoor gorse.

  • Birds love to nest in the protective shrub, which doubles as a great supply of insects for food.

Gorse covered in tight webs

Gorse in winter, flowerless but wrapped in small webs.Occasionally an entire patch of gorse will seem wrapped up in thick spider-like webs. This is the work of the ermine moth, more specifically its caterpillar.

  • It’s not worth trying to get rid of them, unless your gorse is very young and vulnerable. In this case, read up on organic caterpillar control.
  • They will only strike the same place once and will not come back in the following years.
  • Ermine moth caterpillars will feast on the leafage of the plant, stripping it almost entirely.
  • However, gorse is resilient and will grow back once they’re gone.

Spots on gorse leaves

A fungal disease called Septoria sometimes causes these spots. The specific fungus is Septoria slaptoniensis.

  • See other Septoria plants that may spread the disease around them, contaminating your gorse.
  • There are, however, other leaf spot diseases that have a similar impact on the plant.

All there is to know about gorse

Gorse attracts birds such as the one perched on a flowering branch.A magnificent shrub when it is in full bloom, gorse is marvelous thanks to its gold yellow blooming.

It is often encountered along the Atlantic coast, since it has the rare trait of resisting both wind and sea spray.

Also called thorny broom, its growth is rapid and its water needs are is low. It is contented with whatever nature gives it.

  • It can be set up in rocky ground, in shrub beds, in a hedge or as a standalone.
  • Its very sharp thorns lead it to be often used as a defensive hedge.

To create a flowered hedge, you can pair it with other flowering shrubs.

Gorse across the world

Gorse is part of the Ulex genus which numbers around twenty species in Africa and Europe. 7 of these are found in Europe, its native range.

The most common variety found along the Atlantic coast is European gorse (Ulex europaeus), and in Brittany there is Ulex breoganii.

In the British Isles, in addition to U. Europaeus, two more native gorse varieties are also to be admired: Western Gorse (Ulex gallii) and dwarf gorse, Ulex minor.

Along the Mediterranean, the Provence species (Ulex parviflorus) is the most common one. It has the earliest blooming.

Elsewhere on the planet, gorse was introduced as an ornamental plant, or for fodder and hedging for cattle and sheep. It was thus introduced in the Americas (East coast first, later West coast) both in Canada and in the United States in the 1800s.

In Australia and New Zealand, the primary use was pastoral. Indeed, the thorny hedges it forms was great to contain and protect herds.

Invasive gorse

However, both in the Americas and in Australia, gorse was declared invasive in many counties and states.

Today, gorse should not be planted in states along the Northern West Coast (Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia in Canada). Australia and New Zealand have also banned it outright.

Smart tip about gorse

In order to multiply your gorse, prepare cuttings in summer, it’s very easy! It’s virtually guaranteed to grow roots.


Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Blooming gorse by Rtsocial ☆ under Pixabay license
Coast covered in gorse by Michaela Wenzler under Pixabay license
Flowerless gorse by Noj Han ★ under © CC BY-SA 2.0
bird on gorse by James West ★ under © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0