Hathorn Trees: How To Grow & Care For Crataegus Plants

After months of meticulous care, a Hawthorn tree can still die due to disease. Before planting, prevent tree damage with a few helpful hints.

This article may contain affiliate links where we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

After months of meticulous care, a Hawthorn tree can still die due to disease. Before planting, prevent tree damage with a few helpful hints.

Proper placement of a Hawthorn requires rich soil and plenty of sun. For most gardeners, this means securing an area with plenty of space. If a Hawthorn tree becomes infested, this can cause problems for the entire property. Wasted time is bad enough, but creating additional damage is maddening.

To avoid rot and disease, Hawthorn trees will need proper draining. Though they require full sun, mold is still possible without well-drained soil and a thin layer of mulch. Regardless of preventative care, autumn remains the perfect time for planting a Hawthorn tree.

The flowers found in Hawthorn trees are frequently used for garlands. While history once found these flowers to be considered bad luck, they are now a staple decoration for homes across the country. Using well-drained soil provides hermaphrodite flowers which have both male and female parts. An unhealthy tree may not produce flowers at all.

As the Missouri state flower, Hawthorn trees have a special place in southern horticulture. Gardening experts throughout the Missouri area share their unique growing techniques for those across the country.

Table of Contents

What Are Flowering Hawthorn Trees?

Hawthorn trees have a unique shape that distinguishes them from other flowering trees. They are able to cover more ground because of their thick and even branches. Instead of just a bare trunk, an entire Hawthorn tree can be covered with their infamous white flowers.

Although Hawthorn trees are easy to grow, there are a few tips that are critical to learn before planting. Without the right care, the flowers may droop or cease to even bloom during spring and summertime. Since they can grow up to 30 feet tall, drooping leaves may become an eyesore for urban or rural homeowners.

How To Spot a Hawthorn

Hawthorn trees come in a few different varieties. Depending on the tree, flowers can range in color. White, red, and pink petals are the most popular in North America.

One of the most distinguishing factors of a Hawthorn is its branches. The actual bark of the tree is incredibly strong and the branches have thorns ranging from 1 to 3cms long. While it may not be a particularly inviting tree to touch, its miniature fruit is delicious.

The Symbolic Meaning of A Flowering Hawthorn

In Ireland, the Hawthorn tree is known as “the fairy tree”. It was considered bad luck to remove one of these trees from its original location. According to ancient folklore, it was a tree where ghosts visited during the small hours of the night.

In the UK, the Hawthorn was less ominous. Rather than ghosts, the tree was associated with true love. Branches were hung from doorways to protect homes from potential evil spirits. Couples frequently sat underneath the tree in the hopes of a long and happy courtship.

In Missouri, the Hawthorn is known as the state flower. Approximately 75 species of Hawthorns can be found throughout the state. According to ancient Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, the word “haguthorn” meant “a face with thorns”.

Hawthorns around the world often sport white or pink flowers in the springtime. In North America, small clusters of white or pink flowers are found before their fall fruit. These fruits are sometimes used in jam or tea for special occasions.

Medicinal Properties of The Red Haw

The Hawthorn tree is sometimes called “The Red Haw”. According to the Smithsonian, it is a member of the Rose family. Herbalists who are familiar with the southern Missouri variety, The White Hawthorn, have noted certain medicinal properties associated with the tree. Homemade remedies include using the leaves and berries to relieve sore throats and joint pain.

Certain homemade elixirs are still used today in relation to cardiovascular issues. The crataegus species (which includes Hawthorn trees) are known to help health problems pertaining to hypertension. While homemade treatments alone won’t treat congestive heart failure, the flowers and fruit of Hawthorns can ease symptoms.

Making Hawthorn tea is a very easy process if you have access to the fruit. To make the tea, first pour boiling water over a cup full of berries. Do not drink the tea until it has steeped for approximately 15 minutes. After steeping, honey or sugar can be added. It measures out to be one teaspoon of berries for every cup of tea.

How To Grow A Hawthorn Tree

If you decide to grow a Hawthorn tree by seed, this will take substantially more effort. That being said, it’s a fairly straight-forward process that just takes time.


Picking your own seeds can be done by collecting a grown Hawthorn’s berries. These are red berries that are best picked in the beginning of October. The easiest way to collect the berries is by gripping the branch directly below and shaking. Once the berries fall off, the tree remains undamaged.

The storage process takes at least one week, preferably two. During this time the seeds can be extracted by mashing the berries in an old crate or bucket to prevent stains. Seeds are then mixed with horticultural sand and leaf mould for the necessary nutrients while potting.

This is the hardest part. Seeds should stay potted for 18 months before planting in the ground. Keep the potted plant watered and add a small amount of compost for rich soil (this is not required for the tree to grow).

By February  the seeds can be checked for germination. Only 10% of seeds need to be germinated for the planting process to begin. If you plan on growing a fence barrier of trees, digging a trench is advised. This way 9 plants can be added per meter.

Choosing The Right Spot

Hawthorn trees rely on the sun. If they cannot have full sun, partial sun is crucial for them to thrive. The best possible location includes wet and well-drained soil.

A large field or thicket is the ideal place to grow a Hawthorn. This is in part because of unblocked sun, but it’s also because fine-textured soil is typically found in this environment. In North America, these trees are most often found in North Dakota, eastern Texas, and Missouri. This does not mean they cannot be grown in other states, it just means they are less popular.


The best time to start planting is in the fall or spring. This is true regardless if it’s a seed or an already-established plant. Since it will eventually grow several feet, digging a hole that’s deep enough is key.

The typical rule of thumb is to dig a hole twice as wide as the roots. Once the tree is set inside, it should sit an inch above the soil. Then the hole can be filled halfway with soil and water. Two gallons of water should be enough to fill the hole completely.

Hawthorn trees that are planted in an irrigated lawn do not need as much water. To see if the soil is damp enough, poke a 1 inch hole into the ground. If it still feels moist, do not run the risk of over-watering.

It’s important to forgo fertilizing until the tree has settled. Immediately fertilizing after its been planted can disrupt the natural growth. The following spring you can fertilize with ¼ cup of fertilizer.

10-10-10 fertilizer will add a healthy mix of nutrients to the soil. It has equal parts phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen to ensure the flowers and fruit grow properly. It’s basically the equivalent of taking a multivitamin. Instead of worrying about how much of one nutrient will affect another, each nutrient is balanced out equally.

Mulch is another critical ingredient when growing a Hawthorn tree. There are two basic kinds of mulch: organic and inorganic. While many people believe the only difference is the price point, that’s not exactly true.

Inorganic mulches include non-natural textures. This can include plastic, fabric, and geotextiles. While inorganic mulch is probably not going to hurt the tree, it also does not help it. Organic mulch is designed to improve the existing soil.

Regardless if you choose inorganic or organic, a 4 inch layer will cover the tree roots. Mulch is designed to keep weeds away from the area which will help the moisture of the soil. A common mistake is to add mulch to the base of the tree. A six inch circumference is preferred.

When and How To Prune

Hawthorn trees will need to be trimmed and maintained on a regular basis. Although this does not need to happen once a month, an annual grooming is needed.

Trimming a tree before it’s ready can cause damage and potentially stunt its growth. A Hawthorn should never be trimmed before it is at least 4 feet tall. During the spring and summer, the tree is beginning to blossom and may still be actively growing. This is probably the worst time to prune.

Pruning during the winter months ensures the tree is dormant. This encourages flower and fruit growth for the following spring. Although it can feel like you’re diminishing the tree while trimming, it will actually create fuller flowers and a healthier plant.

Pruning with kitchen scissors is never a good idea. To properly prune a tree, quality tools will cut down on time and effort. Sturdy gloves are also important when dealing with sharp thorns. One thorn can average 7.5cm, but may be difficult to spot. Typically they protrude from both the tree trunk and the branches.

A pruning saw is a more advanced tool that gardeners use for cutting extra branches. There are a few different types of pruning saws available, but they depend on the width of the tree.

Before operating a pruning saw it’s important to identify the weight of each limb. Weight can be reduced by using preliminary cuts. Once the limb is weakened, unnecessary tearing and damage can be eliminated.

After cutting the branch, you may notice a patch of rough wood at the very bottom of the cut. If you are a first-time pruner, getting a smooth trunk will take practice. The tree will not be damaged by rough wood and there is no need to perfect the trunk unless you aim for complete smoothness. The most important part of tree pruning is to keep the blade straight.

A non-electrical pruning saw will work well for Hawthorn trees. This has the added bonus of speed adjustment. Without electricity, you can go as fast or as slow as you want.

For smaller branches, a lopper will do the job. This tool looks like a cross between a wrench and a pair of scissors. A gardener can cut 12 inches with this manual tool and still have leverage. For Hawthorn branches with less than 5cm in diameter, the lopper is a better fit than a pruning saw.

Before using either of these tools, first identify and cut any broken twigs or skinny branches growing close to the base. All cuts should be made in the path you want the branch to grow. Cutting against the trunk may cause decay later on.

Sprouts at the base of the Hawthorn will also need to be removed. If not, tree diseases are more likely to occur. Inspecting the tree on an annual or semi-annual basis can help maintain the tree’s overall health.

Preventing Leaf Blight

Leaf blight is a disease that negatively affects both plants and trees. Although it may not infect the actual Hawthorn fruit, it will diminish the leaves. This has a direct impact on the nutrients available to all parts of the tree.

Leaf blight is more likely to occur in wet environments where there is strong wind and rain. The rain will help foster the disease while the wind sweeps it throughout the area. Young plants and trees are the most vulnerable to leaf blight.

There are a few different signs of leaf blight. Symptoms include brown or black spots on the leaves along with curling edges that are crisp to the touch. If untreated, this will eventually lead to plant death.

Prevention is much easier than controlling leaf blight. This is true regardless if you are growing watermelon or berries. To avoid plant disease, preparation is necessary within the first year.

Having healthy soil will make a difference. This is something that can be controlled before the tree is even planted. Homemade compost or aged manure are recommended for Hawthorn trees to keep it healthy throughout the year.

A soaker hose or drip line can also help. By watering a Hawthorn tree at the soil level, water can be contained. If water is left soaking in the ground when night falls, this can potentially breed disease. This is also true for gardens that are particularly shady.

Fungicide is a common approach to preventing plant diseases. Copper-based fungicides work well in addition to newer chemicals such as chlorothalonil, iprodione, propiconazole, and fludioxinil. Depending on the type, certain older fungicides can cause harm to the environment.

Treating Leaf Blight

Plants already infected by leaf blight are prone to infect more plants. For those who have planted a Hawthorn tree near their garden, this can be potentially problematic when it comes to plant disease. Examining plants on a regular basis can help prevent the spread, but it won’t eliminate leaf blight.

If leaf blight has already occurred, controlling it is essential for future growth. Fungicide that is applied as soon as the infection is spotted is recommended. The longer you wait, the more likely the disease is to spread to other areas of the tree.

Simply spraying fungicide when the infection is noticeable is not enough. Fungicides are designed to be used in intervals throughout a period of weeks. If the environment is shady or susceptible to thunderstorms, this may need to be done more frequently than if the tree is located in a field or dry thicket.

Homemade sprays are possible, but not likely to cure the issue. For a “kitchen solution”, mixing a ½ tsp of baking soda with 2.5mL of water may reduce damage from the disease. All-purpose fungicides usually contain copper octanate or sulfur.

Unfortunately leaf blight can happen to any plant, including Hawthorn. If this happens, removing any surrounding plants can minimize the spread.

Benefits of The Crataegus Species

Hawthorn trees fall under the category of crataegus species. This species is primarily known for its shrubs and small, flowering trees. These plants are not only decorative, but they require little maintenance. Once they are established, the only real maintenance necessary is an annual pruning.

The width of many crataegus species is almost identical to the length. This allows gardeners to plant one tree for a bushier appearance. Properties that lack sufficient privacy can benefit from just two or three trees. Even the smallest of Hawthorns will still maintain a round crown with protruding branches.

There are hundreds of these species growing in the United States alone. Although they provide exotic-looking berries and soft petals, purchasing plants is not difficult. Whether you’re in Michigan or Missouri, gardeners from all over the country have their own thoughts about fertilizer, watering techniques, and folklore.

Recent Articles

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Thank you! You're signed up for our free newsletter!

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form