Crataegus (Hawthorn)

Crataegus laevigata

A group of small trees and large shrubs, often seen growing wild in the countryside and along hedgerows. Its prolific white flowers are a real delight in spring, often fully clothing the plants. The attractive bright red autumn fruits provide an excellent food source for birds.

Family: Rosaceae (rose)
Botanical Name: Crataegus
Common Names: Hawthorn, may blossom, quickthorn

Foliage: Deciduous, small, deeply lobed or toothed green leaves. Some species provide good autumn colour. Branches are usually thorny.

Blossom: Clusters of fragrant white, pink or red flowers, followed by small crimson red fruits (haws) in autumn. Single or double forms are available.

Flowering Period: May-June.

Soil: Moist but well-drained soil (chalk, clay, sand or loam). Any pH.

Conditions: Full sun or partial shade. Can be grown in any aspect, in either an exposed or sheltered location.

Habit: Bushy, branching.

Type: Shrub or small tree.

Origin: North America, Europe, North Africa and Asia.

Hardiness: Fully hardy in all of the UK.

Planting and Growing Crataegus

Hawthorns will thrive in any reasonable, well-drained, moisture-retentive soil; including alkaline soils. Once fully established they will usually tolerate drought, floods, atmospheric pollution, high winds and other extreme weather.

Makes an excellent small specimen tree or a sturdy hedge.

Plant bare root saplings when dormant in winter (November to March). For hedges, use a spacing of around 14in (35cm) distance between plants.

Container-grown specimens can be planted out at any reasonable time of year. Water well until established.

Taking Care of Crataegus

Trim hedges in summer after flowering.

Pruning Crataegus

Pruning of trees is not normally necessary apart from removing dead, damaged or diseased wood. Thin out any crowded and matted branches as the tree matures. Old established bushes or hedges can be cut back hard in winter if necessary.

Pests and Diseases

Can be affected by a wide range of pests and diseases, particularly caterpillars. However, these highly robust plants will usually survive most problems without too much intervention. Making them an ideal choice for organic and wildlife gardens.

Propagating Crataegus

Cultivars and garden varieties are often difficult to strike from cuttings, and are usually propagated by grafting. Therefore, it is best to buy named cultivars from a plant retailer.

Hawthorn species can be increased by sowing ripe seed outside, although germination may be slow. Place seed trays against a north-facing wall and cover with wire mesh as protection until germinated. Native species should readily self seed if conditions are favourable.

Popular Varieties of Crataegus

Apart from the common species C. monogyna, which is usually grown as a hedge, there are several other species available for growing as decorative garden trees.

Crataegus coccinea (scarlet hawthorn) produces pinkish blossom in May, followed by striking dark red 'Haws'. Height from 16 to 23 ft (5-7m).

Crataegus laevigata (Midland Hawthorn or English Hawthorn) is a dense thorny shrub or small tree. Height to 25ft (8m). Good varieties include: 'Paul's Scarlet' with double rose-red flowers, 'Plena' with double white flowers, 'Rosea Flore Pleno' with double-pink flowers. Height to 5-6m (16-20ft)s.

Crataegus x lavallei is an attractive small tree of upright spreading habit. It has glossy, leathery, dark-green leaves, that colour red in autumn. Erect clusters of white flowers in June are followed by large orange haws. Height from 16 to 23 ft (5-7m). Cultivar 'Carrierei' has long thorns and whitish-pink flowers, followed by large light red haws.

Crataegus monogyna (common hawthorn) is the native European species. It has deeply lobed leaves with prolific white scented flowers in May, followed by red haws. Makes a useful, dense impenetrable hedge. The native species is unlikely to found for sale in garden centres but can usually be ordered as bare root plants, in late winter or early spring, from hedging suppliers. Height to 33ft (10m). Available at Thompson and Morgan.

Crataegus persimilis 'Prunifolia' (Broad Leaved Cockspur Thorn) makes a compact tree with a fine rounded habit. The glossy oval leaves turn orange and scarlet in autumn, and the clusters of white flowers in June are followed by decorative crimson haws. Height to 6m (20ft).