Washington hawthorn tree. Photo: Frank Richards / Millette Photomedia.

Some plants such as hawthorn have stood the test of time, as evidenced by their common use in home and commercial landscapes. These small trees are grown for their four-season ornamental interest, sturdy nature, and tolerance of varying conditions. Native to temperate regions of North America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa, common names include quickthorn, thornapple, mayflower, whitethorn, and hawberry.

Hawthorn trees fall in the genus Crataegus, comprising hundreds of species in the Rose family (Rosaceae). Here’s how to grow and use hawthorn in the landscape, along with a list of common and garden-worthy varieties.

On this page: Basics | Planting | Care & Pruning | Choosing the Right Hawthorn | Pictures | Design

HAWTHORN BASICS

Botanical name:

Crataegus

Zones:

3-9

Size:

15 to 50 feet tall and 8 to 35 feet wide, depending on variety

Forms:

Deciduous trees with upright spreading or bushy habits; some varieties can be kept as shrubs.

Exposure:

Full sun

Bloom Time:

Mid to late spring

Flowers:

Fragrant white or pink five-petaled flowers resemble apple blossoms.

Foliage:

Hawthorn tree leaves are green, toothed and often lobed, in varying shapes.

Fruit:

The fruits, which look similar to rose hips, are red, orange, yellow, or black. Classified as pomes—as with apples and pears—the fruits are produced in fall and persist through winter. The edible pomes, which have various culinary and medicinal qualities, are also an important food source for robins, waxwings, and other songbirds.

Deer resistance:

Crataegus species are fairly deer resistant, though if hungry enough, deer will forage plants they normally wouldn’t.

Are hawthorn trees invasive?

Singleseed or common hawthorn (C. monogyna) is considered invasive in many regions. This species is also called English hawthorn, not to be confused with C. laviegata, also referred to by the same common name. Plants are mainly spread through seeds.

PLANTING HAWTHORN TREES

Fruit on a Crusader® hawthorn tree. Photo by: Spring Meadow Nursery.

When to plant:

Plant during milder months of spring or fall to avoid heat or cold stress.

Where to plant:

Choose a sunny site with well-draining soil.

How to plant:

Dig a planting hole 2 to 3 times wider than the diameter of the rootball and as deep. Add compost or manure to the planting hole* and dig it into the existing soil. Tease out roots if potbound, or make several slits in the rootball. Place plant in the hole with the top of the rootball slightly higher than the surrounding ground. Cover the sides, but not the top, of the rootball with loose soil and tamp down gently to remove air pockets. Water thoroughly and again once or twice weekly through the first growing season until established. If necessary, stake young trees to support against wind and to keep them growing straight.

*Note: It's best to add no more than 10% compost or manure (by volume) into the existing soil as it can impede good establishment when the roots reach the edge of the "nice" soil and need to grow beyond into the unamended native soil.

CARE & PRUNING

Watering:

Hawthorn is drought-tolerant once established. Water regularly during the first year and during prolonged heat or dry spells. Don’t overwater, as this can cause root rot and other fungal diseases.

Soil:

Hawthorns prefer well-amended soil that is fast-draining, but is tolerant of clay or sand. Soil pH should be between 6.0 to 7.5. Compacted soil or poor drainage can result in root rot.

Amendments & Fertilizer:

Hawthorns are light feeders. In spring, apply a slow-release fertilizer formulated for trees and shrubs according to instructions. Mulch with a layer of compost, pine straw, or bark chips (keeping away from the trunk) to conserve moisture and suppress weeds.

Pruning:

When pruning, use caution to avoid injury from the thorns. Wear heavy gloves, long sleeves, and goggles to protect your eyes. In late winter or early spring, remove damaged, diseased, or crossing branches and shape as needed. Cut back any suckers around the base of the trunk.

Diseases and pests:

Good cultural practices can help stem many problems. There are a number of pests and diseases that can affect hawthorns, though some varieties are more resistant than others. One of the most common and damaging diseases is fire blight. Other diseases include leaf spot, cedar hawthorn rust, powdery mildew, cankers and apple scab. Pests include borers, caterpillars, lacebugs, gall mites, aphids, leafminers, and scale.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT HAWTHORN

With different sizes and forms of hawthorn to choose from, here are some tips to consider:

For borders and landscapes:

Choose varieties that will fit the scale of your property. Depending on the size and form, use as a stand-alone focal point, hedging, screening, or as foundation plantings. They can also be massed in the landscape or naturalized in a meadow setting. Make sure to allow room for plants to mature without becoming crowded.

For containers:

Plant a smaller specimen in a container for year-round appeal.

HAWTHORN PICTURES

Swipe to view slides

Photo by: Frank Richards / Millette Photomedia.

Washington hawthorn
Crataegus phaenopyrum

Zones: 3-9

Height/Spread: Upright spreading habit, 20-30 feet tall and 20-25 feet wide

Color: White flowers, green foliage, red fruit, gray bark. Fall foliage is brilliant scarlet, orange, and purple.

A southeastern U.S. native with a rounded dense canopy. Glossy leaves have pointed lobes and serrated edges. Clusters of flowers appear in late spring and have a somewhat unpleasant scent. Bright red fruit is a favorite of songbirds. Tolerant of heat, drought, and poor soils, and one of the most resistant to fire blight. Sharp thorns make this a good choice to prune into a security hedge.

Photo by: Przemyslaw Muszynski / Shutterstock.

English hawthorn
C. laevigata

Zones: 5-8

Height/Spread: Upright spreading habit, 15-20 feet tall and wide

Color: Green foliage, white flowers, red fruit, insignificant fall color.

Also known as midland hawthorn, woodland hawthorn, or mayflower, this European native is commonly grown as hedgerows in England. Valued for its attractive lobed foliage, flowers in spring, and bright red fruit. Tolerant of varying growing conditions including poor soil, salt, and urban pollution, making it a good choice for cities and coastal areas. Somewhat susceptible to leaf spot.

Photo by: Gabriela Beres / Shutterstock.

'Paul's Scarlet' English hawthorn
C. laevigata

Zones: 5-8

Height/Spread: Upright spreading habit, 20-25 feet tall and 15-20 feet wide

Color: Green foliage, red flowers, red fruit, insignificant fall color.

Spectacular in spring with a profusion of double red flowers that resemble sprays of miniature roses. It can be grown as a specimen tree or hedging, and makes an attractive screen. Fruit is not edible. Makes a good specimen tree for cottage and meadow gardens, suburban lots and curbside plantings. Somewhat susceptible to leaf blight.

Photo by: Peter Turner Photography / Shutterstock.

'Crimson Cloud' English hawthorn
C. laevigata

Zones: 5-8

Height/Spread: Upright spreading habit, 18-25 feet tall and wide

Color: Green foliage, red flowers with white centers, red fruit, insignificant fall color.

A good substitute for ‘Paul’s Scarlet’, as it is more resistant to leaf blight. Clusters of flowers bloom profusely in mid-late spring. The dense canopy produces crossing branches with 1-inch thorns and glossy lobed leaves. A durable variety, tolerant of a wide variety of soils and growing conditions, making it a good choice as a street tree. Can be grown as a specimen tree or hedging.

Photo by: Paul S Drobot / Millette Photomedia.

'Winter King' green hawthorn
C. viridis

Zones: 4-7

Height/Spread: Upright spreading habit, 20-35 feet tall and 20-25 feet wide

Color: White flowers, green foliage, red fruit, silver-gray bark, purple-red fall foliage.

A popular landscape and street tree, this southeastern U.S. native has a broad spreading crown. Fragrant flowers bloom profusely in mid spring, followed by large fruits that persist into winter. Smooth gray bark exfoliates in larger specimens, adding winter interest. Fruits are edible and an important winter food source for song birds. Nearly thornless, highly adaptable, and disease-resistant.

Photo by: Spring Meadow Nursery.

Crusader® (syn. 'Cruzam') cockspur hawthorn
C. crus-galli var. inermis

Zones: 3-7

Height/Spread: Upright rounded habit, 15-30 feet tall and wide

Color: White flowers, green foliage, red fruit, silver bark; fall foliage is orange, scarlet and purple.

A thornless variety with a graceful open canopy, horizontal branching, and is exceptionally hardy. Foliage is oval, non-lobed, with finely serrated edges. Large red fruits stand out against the spectacular fall foliage. Disease-resistant, very adaptable and tolerant of urban pollution, clay soil, and salt. A good choice for curbside, public plantings, and other difficult sites.

Photo by: Snufkin_79 / Shutterstock.

Chinese hawthorn
C. pinnatifida

Zones: 6-9

Height/Spread: Upright spreading habit, 15-20 feet tall and 10-12 feet wide

Color: White flowers, green foliage, red fruit.

Also known as Chinese haw or mountain hawthorn. The sweet, 1-inch fruits can be eaten fresh, dried, or made into candies, jam, wine, or sweet and sour sauce. Chinese hawthorn is sturdy, drought-tolerant, and forgiving of various soil conditions. Varieties include ‘Red Sun’ and ‘Autumn Golden Star’.

Photo by: Janis Skaldis / Shutterstock.

Russian hawthorn
C. ambigua

Zones: 4-8

Height/Spread: Upright spreading habit, 15-25 feet tall and 15-20 feet wide

Color: White flowers, green foliage, red fruit that fades to purple-black. Fall foliage is yellow, but coloring can be somewhat weak.

Horizontal branching and deeply lobed leaves are especially ornamental. The low canopy makes it suitable for planting under power lines. Tolerant of different soils and urban environments, needs moderate water but is somewhat drought-tolerant once established. Plant as a specimen tree, in a natural meadow garden or landscape.

DESIGN TIPS

There are many ways to incorporate hawthorn into your landscape. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Use a single specimen as a focal point and underplant with small spring-blooming bulbs and groundcovers for multi-seasonal appeal.
  • Plant English hawthorn or a native variety as a hedgerow in a meadow garden to provide food and shelter for songbirds and other wildlife.
  • Plant hawthorn trees along a property line to act as a barrier hedge or living fence. The thorns will deter predators, while the dense growth will create a lush privacy screen.
  • For a grand effect, plant a smaller tree form in a row on either side of a pathway to create an allée.
  • Adorn a courtyard with an allée of hawthorns enclosed by a formal hedge of boxwood, barberry, or beech for an elegant statement.

RELATED:

Flowering Trees
Colorful Fall Foliage

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