Everything You Need to Know About the Washington Hawthorn Tree

Washington Hawthorn Tree

The Washington Hawthorn tree is valued for its lovely green foliage and the bright red fruits that liven up a winter landscape. It’s a plant that is beautiful through all four seasons and it makes a lovely addition to any landscape. If you own this tree or are considering planting one or several of them, there are a few things that you will need to know about its care, and in addition, some of the characteristics of the tree that make is such a highly desirable choice. Here is everything that you need to know about the Washington Hawthorn for successful growing.

What is a Washington Hawthorn?

The Washington Hawthorn, also known as Crataegus phaenopyrum, is a decorative tree type plant which puts on gorgeous foliage which starts out with leaves that are a reddish purple color, then turn dark green. In the fall of the year, the leaves turn scarlet, purple or orange. The tree blooms with clusters of snowy white flowers in the summer time, beginning in late May or early June, in zones 4 through 8. After the blooms are spent, the Washington Hawthorn sets on glossy red fruit in the form of berries which stay on the tree throughout the winter, retaining magnificent color. The berries attract a variety of songbirds during the cold months when food resources for the creatures are at a low point. Because the berries cling so tightly to the tree, there is very little nuisance from fall shed so yard cleanup is minimal.

Characteristics and varieties of the Washington Hawthorn

Aside from the beautiful foliage and fruits, the Washington Hawthorn is a multi-trunk plant and the branches are thorny. It’s a good idea to wear protective clothing such as long sleeves and gloves to protect the arms and hands when you are working with this tree because the thorns can cause some serious scratches and puncture wounds if you’re not careful and well protected. There are several varieties of this tree with most highly tolerant of cold weather with hardiness in ones 3 through 9. They can grow to a height between 25 to 35 feet and they may also spread as wide as they grow tall, so unless you keep them pruned back, leave plenty of room for this expansion. The bark is also lovely in the winter. in the summer, the foliage is shiny and dense and the Washington Hawthorn makes a good small share tree, as well as a privacy screen or a security hedge if properly pruned for this purpose.

There are several varieties of Hawthorn trees available. The English Hawthorn is native to the Celtic countries and has been considered to be a sacred tree to the fairies in parts of Europe. One European variety is known as Crimson Cloud and it blooms in red clusters. Getting back to North American Varieties, the Cockspur Hawthorn is similar to the Washington Hawthorn with unlobed leaves as the major characteristic that distinguishes the varieties. Some Hawthorns are more shrub-like, such as the Indian Hawthorn which is an evergreen shrub. This variety is only hardy up to zone 7, and is a different genus with flower clusters of white or pink which turn into blue colored berries after the blooming season. Within this variety, the Georgia Petite is an example of a dwarf variety that only reaches two and a half feet in height and three and a half feet in width. Hawthorn trees are relatives of the apple tree.

How to propagate the Washington Hawthorn

The best way to propagate a Washington Hawthorn tree is to take softwood cuttings. The ideal time to do this is in the middle of summer in June through July. Before you begin, make sure that you’re wearing a long sleeved shirt to protect your arms from the thorny branches. Gloves are also a good idea to protect the fingers and hands from scratches and punctures. use a pair of hand pruners and cut several softwood stems in 4 to 6 inch lengths. If you’re not familiar with the term softwood, these are the tender young stems that have reached the stage of maturity that if you bend them, they will make a popping noise when they snap. Cut each of the stems below a bud that is located just underneath the area where a bud or leaf grows out of the stem.

After you’ve taken the cuttings, strip off the leaves from the lower half, but leave them intact on the upper part. Dip one inch of the bottom part of the stem in a rooting hormone. They come in both powder and liquid formulations. Prepare a container to plant the cutting in that is comprised on half clean sand and half peat moss. The container you use should have a hole in the bottom for proper drainage. Make sure the potting soil is moist but not so wet that it’s soggy. poke holes in the soil and insert each cutting into the hole. You can place as many cuttings in a pot as will fit so long as the leaves are not touching. Cover the pot with the plantings with a clear plastic bag then seal it t the bottom to keep the cuttings warm and moist. Set the cuttings in an area where they will receive indirect sunlight, but make sure to keep them out of the direct sunlight. Keep the cuttings moist by using a spray bottle and within a few weeks the roots should begin to form. Washington Hawthorn seedlings are usually ready to plant within two or three months after starting the propagation process.

Care and maintenance of your Washington Hawthorn tree

The Washington Hawthorn tree is relatively easy to grow and to maintain, but it does require a certain amount of care. This variety does very well in zones 5 through 9. Unlike many of the other varieties of Hawthorn tree, the Washington Hawthorn is highly resistant to diseases. They should be planted in areas where the soil has good drainage and the tree is exposed to full sunlight. They do need to be fertilized approximately every other year. This tree can be allowed to become dry, but not for long periods of time. They do best in moist soil conditions. It’s best to water once a week and keep the soil moist but not soggy as this can cause issues with root rot if there is prolonged moisture at the roots.

Pest prevention

Although the Washington Hawthorn is resistant to diseases common in the other varieties, it is vulnerable to the attack of a variety of different pests. The most common pest issus include aphids and sawfly larvae and pear slugs. In most cases, you can get rid of these pests by simply spraying the tree down with a garden hose and a healthy stream of water. Another pest problem is a borer. but these only attack weak trees so if your Washington Hawthorn is healthy it shouldn’t be a problem. The key to preventing serious problems with pests is to be vigilant and catch any problems early, and eliminate them. In most cases, pesticides are not required but if you notice an unusual infestation that is not eliminated by spraying the plants down with water, you may want to consider one of the milder pesticides.

A few other issues that you may experience with a Washington Hawthorn are rust and leaf blight. Although uncommon in this variety it has been known to happen. If you notice that the leaves are beginning to show signs of blight or rust, it’s a good idea to address the issue immediately. Prune out the branches that show signs which may appear as tips that have a scorched appearance and are brown. Take the branch back to about a foot past the affected area to make sure that you’ve got it all.


Most of the time a Washington Hawthorn tree is a plant that needs little maintenance an unless there is a problem with leaf blight or rust, you’re not required to prune this plant. There are however, times when pruning can be necessary. If your tree becomes too overgrown and it doesn’t have a pleasing aesthetic, it’s probably time to give it a good shaping or thinning. This should be done ideally when the plant has gone dormant in the late fall or winter time but you an also do some light pruning at other times of the year for the purposes of shaping, or to remove limbs which have become damaged or diseased. You should always prepare in advance of pruning a Washington Hawthorn by wearing clothing that will protect you from the thorns, as well as additional eye protection such as safety glasses or goggles. Also, it’s important to dip the edges of the pruners you plan to use in alcohol or some other type of disinfectant that will kill any fungus or other type of disease that may be present from pruning plants that are diseased.

Other interesting facts about the Washington Hawthorn Tree

The Washington Hawthorn offers a host of useful purposes that most people are not aware of. Most of the types can be specially pruned and grown as a bonsai. The berries are edible and they make a great source of food for birds and even humans can consume the berries, but rabbits, squirrels and raccoons are especially fond of them. They even attract interesting birds and butterflies. In days gone by, some people used the berries to make sauces, jams and jellies and you can even eat the flowers and leaves in salad when they are young and tender. You can also make teas from the flowers or use them as decorations for fancy desserts.

You an also use the twisted knotty wood to make crafts such as walking sticks and other unique items. Because of the hardness of the wood it has been used in the making of tool handles as well as fence posts and even sculptures. The leaves contain no nicotine but they have also been dried and used or tobacco. You must be careful around them though because the thorns can grow to between one and five inches in length. Even the roots are useful and have been used to make jewelry boxes as well as combs.

The hawthorn fruit also has medicinal properties. As far back as the middle ages, the fruit was used to make a wine and it helps to lower high blood pressure. It’s still used to strengthen the cardiovascular system and it is good for digestion. Finally, the Washington Hawthorn tree can live to be up to 400 years old when it is growing in the wild.

Final thoughts

The Washington Hawthorn tree is a beautiful addition to any landscape because of its pleasant aesthetics that are lovely in all four seasons, bringing color to winter landscapes. In addition to being a tree that is easy to maintain, it is also an extremely versatile plant that can be shaped into a bonsai, grown as a small shade tree or used to make a privacy screen or hedge. The wood can be used to make a variety of craft and useful items and the fruit attracts a variety of interesting wildlife. The leaves and fruit not only make good food resources for birds, rabbits, raccoons and butterflies, they can also be used to make foods for humans. They’re not only good to eat, the leaves and fruit make interesting teas with a variety of health benefits. They contribute to good digestion and can even lower high blood pressure. There are a lot of reasons why you should consider growing this attractive low maintenance tree, As long as you don’t mind the sharp thorns.

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