How to Plant and Grow Hawthorn Tree

Hawthorn Tree Crataegus crus-galli

Native to eastern North America, hawthorn is a showy, small tree that breaks into clouds of white flowers in spring, followed by vivid fall color, and long-lasting red winter fruits. The fruits, which resemble rosehips, stand out in a snowbound landscape. Robins sometimes line the branches in mid-to-late winter, harvesting the fruits. This tree is also known as cockspur thorn, and for good reason. It sports numerous long, sharp thorns along its horizontal branches—which is why a grouping of these trees makes an excellent barrier or living fence. Hawthorns prefer well-drained, slightly acidic soil but are unflappable in heat and humidity.

Hawthorn Tree Overview

Genus Name Crataegus crus-galli
Common Name Hawthorn Tree
Plant Type Tree
Light Sun
Height 15 to 50 feet
Width 20 to 30 feet
Flower Color White
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Colorful Fall Foliage, Spring Bloom, Winter Interest
Special Features Attracts Birds
Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Propagation Stem Cuttings
Problem Solvers Slope/Erosion Control

Where to Plant Hawthorn

Hawthorn grows best in full sun and average, well-drained soil. Choose a sunny spot to get the most out of the hawthorn’s showy blooms. If you choose to plant a variety of hawthorn that still produces thorns, consider placing it in an area away from walkways or where children may play as the needle-sharp thorns of some varieties can grow up to 3 inches long and could cause serious injury.

How and When to Plant Hawthorn

Plant nursery-grown trees in early spring or early fall. Dig a hole in a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. You will want to make the hole at least twice as wide and deep as the root ball to help the sapling stay anchored. If you are building a living fence of hawthorn trees, make sure the holes are spaced at least 20 feet apart so the roots of your trees have room to grow as they mature.

After planting, water them well and cover the soil around the tree with a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch to prevent weeds and moisture evaporation from the soil. Water spring-planted trees regularly and deeply through the first growing season. Water your fall-planted trees regularly and deeply for a growing season beginning in the spring following planting.

Hawthorn Tree Care

Hawthorn trees are hardy flowering trees that are tolerant of many varied growing conditions but they are notably susceptible to issues with pests and diseases. With proper care, however, you can enjoy their striking color in your garden all year long—from the flush of flowers each spring to the beautiful crimson berries of winter.


Hawthorn grows best in full sun. Trees grown in shadier spots may not develop the showy blooms and bright berries that make the tree so compelling.

Soil and Water

Hawthorn trees grow best in well-drained, slightly acidic soil that has a pH between 6.0 and 7.5, but they can tolerate almost any type of soil from clay to sand. That said, if the soil is too compact, the tree may develop root rot.

Pruning and Harvesting

Hawthorn rarely requires pruning, but it's best to remove dead or diseased branches as soon as possible.

Pests and Problems

Many fungal diseases and pests plague hawthorn, such as rust, fire blight, powdery mildew, cankers, apple scab, and leaf blight. For the healthiest tree possible, start by choosing a disease-resistant variety. Then do your part to keep hawthorn healthy by planting it in an area with well-drained soil and good air circulation.

Types of Hawthorn

There are over 200 types of hawthorn trees, most of which produce white flowers and small, round fall fruits. They are native to the temperate regions of Asia, Europe, and North America and often feature thorny spines that grow on their trunks and stems.

The development of thornless hawthorns means that user-friendly varieties of this tree can now spread their horizontal branches in landscapes of all kinds, including those enjoyed by children and pets.

Azarole hawthorn

Crataegus azarolus, or azarole hawthorn, grows to about 20 to 30 feet tall with glossy green leaves and fragrant white flowers that turn to yellow, golden, or red fruits in the fall. It grows well in zones 5-9 and, in warmer climates, produces an edible fruit with a tart, apple-like flavor.

Canadian hawthorn

Crataegus canadensis, the Canadian hawthorn tree, typically grows to about 30 feet tall and produces clusters of white flowers in late spring and early summer and crops of tiny, red, apple-like fruit in the fall and winter. It has dark-brown bark with long thorns.

Cockspur hawthorn

Crataegus crus-galli, or cockspur hawthorn, is often grown as a large shrub or small tree and can grow to a height of 15 to 35 feet. It features thorny branches that produce clusters of white flowers in spring followed by small, reddish burgundy berries that will last through January.

Common hawthorn

Crataegus monogyna, a.k.a. common hawthorn, can be grown as a small tree or shrub that reaches anywhere between 6 and 30 feet in height. The thorny tree’s cherry blossom-like flowers are grouped in small, flat clusters that turn to crimson berries that are eaten and distributed by birds and other small animals throughout the winter.

Copenhagen hawthorn

Crataegus intricate, or Copenhagen hawthorn, grows in zones 4-8 and will reach a height of 4 to 10 feet tall. It produces fragrant, cup-shaped white flowers each spring that turn to clusters of sour, red apple-like fruits that are sometimes used to make jams and jellies.

'Paul's Scarlet' English hawthorn

Crataegus laevigata, or ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ hawthorn, grows to about 20 to 25 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide in zones 5-8. It produces clusters of dark pink blooms that resemble miniature roses in the spring. The blossoms are followed by red fruits in the fall that are not edible for humans, but popular among birds.

Thornless cockspur hawthorn

Much like the thorny cockspur hawthorn, the thornless variety, crataegus crus-galli var. inermis, displays beautiful white flowers in the spring and long-lasting fruit in the fall and winter. The tree can grow up to 20 to 35 feet at maturity and will not produce the thorns its prickly cousin is known for.

Washington hawthorn

Crataegus phaenopyrum, or Washington hawthorn, grows well in zones 3-9 and will reach a height of 20 to 30 feet tall. It features white flowers and green foliage that turns red, orange, and purple in the fall. In winter, the disease-resistant tree is bright with red fruit and silvery-gray bark. 

Companion Plants

Enjoy the view of hawthorn's dense horizontal branching by combining it with other small trees in a large landscape bed. Great planting partners include crabapple, redbud, and serviceberry. All of these trees flower in spring to create a colorful screen that also provides sustenance for pollinators during flowering.


Prairie Fire Crabapple Tree Apples
Mike Jensen.

With fragrant spring flowers, stunning fall foliage, and rosy winter fruits that attract birds, the crabapple makes a delightful landscape tree. In zones 3-8, it grows to approximately 8 to 20 feet in height and, like the hawthorn tree, thrives in well-drained soil.

Redbud Tree

redbud cercis canadensis with pink flowers near blue house
Jerry Pavia.

Redbuds, of the genus Cercis, are easy-to-grow trees that produce sprays of lovely pink or white blooms in early spring that give way to heart-shape leaves in summer and fall. They grow in zones 5-9 to a height of approximately 20 to 30 feet and—while they prefer full sun—they can handle slightly more shade than the hawthorn tree.


amelanchier autumn brilliance serviceberry
Peter Krumhardt.

Serviceberries—named for their tendency to bloom during burial season in days gone by—are small trees that produce lovely white, pink, or yellow blooms that transform to blue-green foliage in early spring. They can reach a height of 6 to 25 feet in zones 2-9 and produce clusters of edible berries that can be made into jellies or jams.

Garden Plans for Hawthorn

Clay Soil Garden Plan

Clay Soil Garden

This garden plan contains a mix of plants that can tolerate the tough conditions that come with clay soil. Nestled around the thornless hawthorn tree in this plan, you will find a rugosa rose, a lady's mantle, and daylilies, all of which will produce beautiful blossoms at different times of the year. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What do hawthorn trees smell like?

    Hawthorn trees do not produce a smell, but their spring flowers are another story. Although the tree is a genus of thorny trees and shrubs in the Rosaceae, or rose, family, the smell of its blooms isn’t particularly rosy. In fact, the aroma of the hawthorn tree’s short-lived blooms is most frequently compared to rotting flesh or an unpleasant “fishy” smell. This is because the flowers contain trimethylamine, a substance that also occurs in decaying animals.  Fortunately, the concentration of trimethylamine (and the accompanying smell) fades as the flowers mature.

  • Are hawthorn trees considered unlucky?

    Hawthorn trees are sometimes referred to as “fairy trees” –both lovingly and by way of caution because the thorny trees were often viewed as a doorway into the realm of fairies. In fact, from Brothers Grimm fairy tales and early Irish folklore to modern Wiccan practices, the hawthorn tree’s history is steeped in legend. In many places, particularly Ireland, it was believed that cutting down or damaging a hawthorn tree might bring the attention (and wrath) of the fairies that inhabit it. Also, across much of Europe, people refused to bring hawthorn blossoms or branches into the house for fear that they might bring illness and death to those who lived there.

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  1. Crataegus pennsylvanica, Rare Plant Profile-NJDEP-Requesting Heritage Data. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Office of Natural Lands Management. (n.d.). 

  2. Hawthorn power in fairy tales, the cult of the virgin, and the cult of the undead. Yale University Press.

  3. Crataegus tourn. Ex L. GBIF. (n.d.). 

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