Hawthorn (Crataegus) is synonymous with late spring, when its white and pink blossoms mark the changing season. We have two native hawthorns in the UK – Crataegus monogyna and Crataegus laevigata. Both grow individually as a small tree and are also used in hedging, either on their own or in a mix with other native hedgerow plants. The leaves, flowers and fruit (also known as ‘haws’) eaten by a number of wildlife species, and its dense thorny habit provides a safe nesting place for birds. Hawthorns make a good screen or specimen tree and are among the best trees for small gardens.
Where to plant hawthorn
Hawthorns are full hardy, so will suit most garden locations. Ideally plant in moist but well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade.
How to plant hawthorn
Hawthorns are best planted when dormant, from autumn to spring, as bare-root trees or hedging plants.
How to propagate hawthorn
The best method of propagating hawthorns is from seed, saved from the haws or berries. It takes a long time, but start by mashing the berries to extract the seed and mix with sand. Sow in fine compost mixed with leaf mould, in pots. Keep well watered and seeds will germinate in around 18 months.
In this video clip from Gardeners’ World, Carol Klein shows you how to gather rose hips and hawthorn berries in autumn, then explains how to stratify them to encourage germination a couple of weeks later:
Hawthorn: problem solving
Hawthorns are pretty tough and disease resistant.
How to care for hawthorns
Hawthorns do not need much aftercare or pruning, unless you’re growing them as part of a hedge.
Great hawthorn varieties to try
- Crataegus ‘Crus-galli’ – a more unusual variety, native to Canada and North America, this offers good seasonal interest, with lots of creamy-white flowers in early summer followed by deep-red fruits, plus good foliage colour in autumn
- Crataegus monogyna – this is one of our native varieties. It has fragrant white flowers in late spring, followed by glossy dark red fruit, known as haws. Trained as a hedge it will reach between 1.5 and 3m in height
- Crataegus monogyna ‘Ferox’ – a large shrub or small tree with white scented flowers in late spring or early summer, followed by red fruits in autumn. It has thorns at the stem nodes
- Crataegus persimilis ‘Prunifolia’ – a compact tree with long thorns, dark green foliage, and white flowers in early summer, followed by typical red fruits. The leaves have a fantastic autumn colour
- Crataegus tanacetifolia – an upright, thornless tree with grey-green leaves fragrant white flowers in mid-summer and aromatic, orange-yellow fruits in autumn
- Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ – a cultivar of our other native hawthorn, Midland hawthorn, this has red, double flowers and grows to 8m in height