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How to Grow: Hawthorn
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Spring with mostly white flowers, colorful orange-red berries and red, orange and purple fall foliage color
Mature Height x Spread
15 to 30 feet x 15 to 30 feet
attracts beneficials, native, fall color, edible, deer resistant
This small, deciduous tree delights with its bright white flowers in spring, colorful berries in summer and attractive fall foliage color. It’s a slow growing tree in the apple family with a rounded habit and sometimes multiple stems. It makes a nice addition to a wildlife planting in a meadow or hedgerow with other fruiting trees. Birds, especially cedar waxwings, enjoy the berries and they also can be harvested and made into jams. Because of its size and three seasons of interest, hawthorn makes a great plant for small space yards. However, the tree can have sizable thorns that make it difficult to work around. There are some thornless varieties on the market.
When, Where and How to Plant
Hawthorn trees are hardy throughout New England. Purchase trees from a local nursery and plant from spring to early fall in well-drained, humus-rich soil. They produce the most flowers and fruit in full sun locations. Space trees 20 to 30 feet apart. Grow them closer if planted as a hedgerow.
Keep the trees well watered. Grow hawthorn trees in a moist soil. Create a mulch ring covered with wood chips or bark mulch around individual trees planted in lawns to keep the soil moist, prevent weed growth and protect the trunks for damage due to lawn mowers or string trimmers. Fertilize in spring with a tree plant food.
Regional Advice and Care
Hawthorn trees should be carefully pruned (because of the thorns) in spring to remove dead, diseased and broken branches and to shape the tree. Remove competing branches, suckers, and water sprouts. Hawthorns can be susceptible to similar diseases as apples, such as rust, fireblight and apple scab. Select resistant varieties and spray in spring with Serenade organic fungicide to control some of these diseases.
Companion Planting and Design
Grow hawthorn trees as a small tree in the landscape in the lawn or mixed with other fruiting trees, such as crabapples and serviceberry, in a mixed island planting. Hawthorn trees can be grown and pruned into an informal hedge to block a view or provide protection from wildlife. You can also grow hawthorn trees in meadows or pastures to provide food for birds and other wildlife.
‘Winter King’ hawthorn (C. viridis) is probably the most common hawthorn on the market. It grows 20 feet tall with white flowers and abundant red fruits in fall that persist into winter. It has good fall foliage color and disease resistance. ‘Crimson Cloud’ is an English hawthorn (C. laevigata) with red flowers and fruits and good disease resistance. It has fewer thorns than other selections. ‘Princeton’ Sentry’ is a Washington type hawthorn (C. phaenopyrum) that grows in a columnar shaped with almost thornless branches.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.