How to grow hawthorn
Hawthorn can be grown as a tree or a hedge. As trees, they are small to medium-sized and ideal for your garden. As hedges, they form a dense boundary that blossoms and supports wildlife.
- Ideal for hedges or garden trees
- Deciduous (loses leaves in winter)
- Provides food and shelter for wildlife
- Can grow in exposed sites and on wet soils
- Position in sun or part-shade
- Trees need little maintenance once established
- Trim hedges at least once a year to shape them
All you need to know
Do you want to grow a hawthorn hedge or tree? Knowing this simple answer will help you decide which hawthorn is right for you.
Common hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, is a British native plant that makes a medium-sized hedge up to 3m (10ft) in height. However, it can easily be kept at a lower height of between 1.4-2.5m (5-8ft) if trimmed. Hawthorn has a looser, less formal appearance when trimmed occasionally, or left untrimmed. Leaving longer periods between trimming reduces maintenance and often improves spring blossom.
To create a diverse habitat for wildlife, hawthorn can also be planted with other native species like Corylus avellana (hazel) and Sambucus nigra (elder). Crataegus laevigata (Midland hawthorn) has pink/red-flowered cultivars, can also be used for hedging, but it is sold less frequently in quantity.
Hawthorn is deciduous, so if you prefer a green hedge year-round, choose an evergreen such as Taxus baccata (English yew), Prunus laurocerasus (cherry laurel) or Thuja plicata (western red cedar).
Hawthorn (Crataegus) trees are ideal for smaller gardens, and are especially useful if you would like to encourage wildlife. They flower and fruit reliably, with decorative haws (fruits) persisting into winter. Some like C. persimilis 'Prunifolia' and C.× lavalleei 'Carrierei' have good autumn colour. Trees usually range from 5m-10m (16ft-33ft), while smaller slower growing dwarf selections like C.laevigata 'Gireoudii' (up to height 4m/13ft) are suitable as large border shrubs.
Hawthorn hedging is usually sold as
These have been lifted from the ground while dormant, with little or no soil around their roots. Various plants may be available bare root, including fruit trees, hedging plants and some perennials. They are generally cheaper than plants in containers, but are only available in winter/early spring, while dormant
The period of time when an individual plant is in active growth. This will depend on the local climate and light levels, and can vary between different plants, although it is broadly from spring to autumn.
Hawthorn trees can be bought bare-root, or as container-grown specimen trees. Specialist tree and shrub nurseries stock the best range. Once you've decided on the tree you'd like, track it down using our Find a Plant tool.
Bare-root hedging plants can be planted during winter. Anytime between October and February is fine, but avoid periods when the soil is waterlogged or frozen.
When to plant hawthorn
Container-grown hawthorn trees for specimen planting can be planted any time of year, but you will find them easier to keep watered if you plant in winter or spring. They are also sometimes available from nurseries as bareroot plants in winter.
Where to plant hawthorn
Hawthorn is a hardy plant and will grow on a range of soils, in full sun or part-shade. They are very tough, tolerating exposed positions and wet soils. Ground that is frequently waterlogged should be avoided though, as these conditions are likely to rot the roots. When planting a tree, make sure there is enough space around the tree for it to reach its ultimate dimensions (check label or the RHS website for these).
How to plant hawthorn
For hawthorn hedging, follow our guide on hedge planting. Make a row, spacing plants 45-60cm (18in-2ft) apart. If you would like a wider hedge plant a double row. Thicker hedges give good cover for nesting birds, but can also improve privacy. Small hedging plants don’t require staking but may need protection from rabbits and deer.
For hawthorn trees, notes on how to plant these can be found on our tree planting page, or follow the RHS guide here if you have chosen a larger specimen tree. Specimen trees, or those in exposed positions, benefit from staking for 18 months to 3 years until well-rooted.
Watering is key to successful establishment. Pay particular attention to this during dry weather. Direct water toward the base of the plant, thoroughly soaking this area, so water gets down to the roots. Continue to monitor watering during dry periods for the first three growing seasons after planting.
Hawthorn aren't heavy feeders, but a general purpose fertiliser, such as Growmore, or blood, fish and bone applied in early spring (February) often gives newly-planted hedges and trees a boost during the growing season. Once established, if the hedge or tree is growing well, this should be discontinued.
Hawthorn hedgingNewly planted: If the hedging plant is not well branched, cut back the leading shoot by 15-30cm (6in-1ft) after planting. In the following summer, side branches can also be trimmed by one-quarter to one-third to encourage bushy growth. If they still seem sparse after the first growing season, this process can be repeated.
In late summer (August) of the third year, begin to shape the sides of the hedge so they taper (become narrower) toward the top. This is done so that light reaches all sides and it remains leafy without bare branches. Leave the top uncut until the hedge has reached the desired height.
Maintenance: Once established, to maintain a formal look, cut your hedge twice or more from late spring to summer. A last cut in early autumn will keep it looking neat overwinter. To maintain the tapered shape, when cutting, aim for a flat-topped A-shape with the base about 1m (3⅓ft) wide. For a more informal look, which can help to encourage wildlife and more blossom and berries, cut your hedge once, or every other year.
Overgrown hedges: In time, hedges can become wider and taller. If they outgrow their space, renovation pruning can help reduce their size. This is best done when the hedge is dormant in mid-winter (Jan/Feb). This type of pruning can stress the hedge, so if wish to cut back the top and sides by more than half, this is best staggered over two or three years.
Hedge laying, can also help to rejuvenate a sparce or overgrown hedge. This is a traditional practice, where hedging plants are partially cut at the base, then laid and pegged horizontally. This is most frequently seen in the countryside, but could also work well in larger gardens, or those that border fields. For more information about hedge renovation, including hedge laying, see the RHS guide here.
Under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 it is an offence to damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird, so take particular care when pruning trees and hedges between March and August.
Hawthorn treesHawthorn trees need little pruning, other than to remove any broken, crossing or diseased branches. Check your tree periodically, especially after storms for this kind of damage. If the tree appears unbalanced, or if two main shoots (twin leaders) form you may wish to remove these branches. Lower branches can also be removed once the tree is well-established to reveal a clear trunk. This also allows more light beneath for underplanting and can make mowing around trees easier. Pruning should ideally be done when the tree is dormant in mid-winter (Jan/Feb).
Read more about things to consider when pruning trees on our advice page here. For major pruning work, you may want to hire an aborist/tree surgeon.
Trees from seed: Hawthorn trees can also be sown from seed, using the above method, but if the tree is a named cultivar, it may not be identical to the parent plant.
Trees and hedges from cuttings: Hawthorn are very hard to grow from cuttings, try raising from seeds first.
Grafting trees: Named cultivars of hawthorn are sold as grafted trees. Grafting means the resulting plant is identical to the parent tree (unlike seed grown trees). This technique requires some skill, so it's easier to buy trees, unless you are more experienced, or enjoy a challege.
To propagate trees by grafting, take young wood (called the 'scion') from the desired tree and graft onto a two or three-year old Crataegus monogyna, C. crus-galli or C. laevigata sapling. Chip bud grafting can also be done in summer.
- Fungal leaf spots cause dark-spotting and blotching to the leaf surface. Spots often have a grey centre and can be accompanied by leaf yellowing. Although unsightly, this is unlikely to cause the tree to die
- Signs of ill health or the death of mature hawthorn trees and hedging can be due to the common disease honey fungus. It's worth checking the roots to find out if this is present
- Powdery mildew may occur, especially in dry conditions. Mulching and watering will help prevent this
- Fireblight affects members of the Rosaceae (rose family) like hawthorn. Branches appear scorched at tips. Cut out affected branches to stop it spreading
- Young plants can fail due to damage from rabbit and deer stripping, which can ring bark trees. This often occurs in cold weather or after snowfall. Use tree animal-proof fencing or tree guards
- Hawthorn leaf margin mite (Phyllocoptes goniothorax) causes pale thickening and curling of the leaf margins. If practical, affected leaves can be picked off, however damage is cosmetic, rather than serious. See here for more information about mites
- Aphids and caterpillars feed on the leaves, but don't usually need controlling. Natural predators like birds and other insects will reduce numbers
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