Saturday, February 27, 2021

How to Grow Hawthorn Trees in The Landscape


The hawthorn is a small, flowering tree that represents an alternative choice to flowering crabapple and flowering dogwood so common in today’s landscape. The hawthorns or Crataegus are valued for their picturesque shapes, dense and thorny habit of growth, glossy foliage, clusters of small white or pink flowers in spring, and persistent orange or red fruit in autumn. Hawthorns are widely distributed in North America and are a common sight in pastures, along hedgerows and in areas grown to brush but not wooded areas. Most of these native species are not grown commercially because they are not as valuable as those selected by nurserymen as the best ornamental forms.


This species is tolerant of most soils and a wide variation in soil pH. The soil should be well drained for best growth. It transplants best in spring and should be planted in full sun. Hawthorn does well in city conditions and should be considered for this use in locations where the thorns do not pose a problem to pedestrians.

Hawthorn is a member of the rose family and as such is susceptible to fireblight, rust, leaf blight, leaf spots, aphids, lace bug, scale and mite. Control measures may be obtained from Cooperative Extension Service publications. One or two general-purpose sprays may be needed on an annual basis to control the majority of pests.

Landscape Value

Hawthorns are planted as a single specimen, in mass groupings, for screen, hedge or barrier plants to control foot or vehicular traffic, and as a foundation tree. Avoid use where small children may come in contact with the thorns, or select those types that are essentially thornless.

Selected Species and Cultivars

Crataegus crusgalli – Cockspur Hawthorn
This 25-foot species is a broad-rounded, low-branched tree with wide-spreading (20 to 30 foot), horizontal, thorny branches. The thorns are 1 1/2 to 3 inches long. Thus, the tree must be used in the landscape with caution. The white flowers are borne in flat clusters two to three inches in diameter in mid to late May. The fruit is deep red and 3/8 to 1/2 inches in diameter, ripening in late September and persisting into late fall. This species has excellent habit, flowers and fruit with the long thorns as the main drawback.

Cultivars and Related Species

C. crusgalli ‘Inermis’ – Thornless cultivar
C. punctata ‘Ohio Pioneer’ – An essentially thornless type selected from a tree at the Secrest Arboretum in Wooster, Ohio, that has good vigor, growth and fruiting characteristics.

Crataegus x lavallei – Lavalle Hawthorn
This hybrid is a small, dense, oval-shaped tree reaching 20 to 25 feet in height. The foliage is outstanding with its large, lustrous dark leaves in summer followed by bronze to coppery-red colors in autumn. The 3 inch white flower clusters in May are followed by showy orange to orange-red fruit in autumn 5/8 to 3/4 inches in diameter, which persists well into winter. The foliage and fruit are outstanding, but the tree usually requires staking in the landscape for several years to maintain an upright condition.

Crataegus monogyna – Singleseed Hawthorn
This species is a round-headed, densely-branched tree with slightly pendulous branches and moderate thorny character. It grows 20 to 30 feet high. The small summer foliage is a dark, shiny green, and the flowers are borne in white clusters in mid-late May. The one-seeded fruit is red, 3/8 inches in diameter and effective in early to mid-autumn.

Varieties and Cultivars

var. inermis – Thornless
var. pendula – Pendulous branchlets
‘Stricta’ – Upright branches and narrow habit

Crataegus laevigata – English Hawthorn
English Hawthorn is a low-branching, round-topped tree with numerous ascending branches reaching 15 to 20 feet in height and 12 to 20 feet in width. The foliage is dark green in summer and the flowers are borne in white clusters in mid-May. The scarlet fruit ripens in September.

Varieties and Cultivars

‘Crimson Cloud’ – Fine red flowers and more resistant to leaf blight than ‘C. Paulii’
var. rosea – Flowers light rose, single
var. plena – Flowers white, double, few fruits
‘Paulii’ – Paul’s Scarlet English Hawthorn has flowers that are double, scarlet and showy, but the foliage is extremely susceptible to leaf spot and blight and is no longer recommended for this reason.

Crataegus phaenopyrum – Washington Hawthor
Washington Hawthorn grows to 25 to 30 feet with a 20 to 25 foot spread. It is broadly columnar, dense, thorny and eventually rounded. The foliage is reddish purple when unfolding, changing to lustrous dark green at maturity and turning to orange, scarlet and purple in autumn. The white flower clusters in early June are effective for 7 to 10 days. The fruit is bright orange to orange-red, 1/4 inches in diameter in clusters, coloring in September and persisting all winter. Crataegus x ‘Vaughn’ has abundant, glossy red fruit.

Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’ – Winter King Green Hawthorn
This selection has a vase-shaped, branching structure with a rounded growth habit. The fruits are larger than the other species and a good red that contrasts well with the silvery branches in autumn and winter. Although this cultivar is thorny, it is one of the most popular hawthorn selections.

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