When it comes to choosing trees, there are so many choices it can be hard to make a final decision. Many classic trees like maple and oak grow too large for gardens, and they all-too-often become an expensive problem in the future. As well, they often have interest only at one season. Flowering trees are often better choices, as they are smaller, and are beautiful more than just once a year. A flowering tree that doesn’t grow too large, with an attractive form and foliage, hardy to zone 3, plus spring flowers, fall color and colorful fruit into winter sounds like a winner – and it perfectly describes the Washington Hawthorn. Did we mention it is a native American tree too, and a source of winter food for birds, both important criteria for many people? No? Well it is.
This tree makes a wonderful smaller specimen tree on a lawn, or as a background tree in a larger garden. It is low-maintenance, so it is easily grown by anyone. It also makes an excellent screen, and it can be clipped into a very effective security hedge, because of its thorns. These 3-inch thorns will deter any intruder, and clipped plants have plenty of them.
The Washington Hawthorn grows steadily into an upright tree with a broad, rounded crown. Mature trees are between 25 and 30 feet tall, and their crown can be almost as much across. Big enough to draw attention, and throw welcome shade onto a lawn, but far from the 60 feet of large shade trees, and therefore very suitable for a smaller garden, or as secondary trees in a larger one. The leaves are up to 3 inches long and a little over 2 inches wide, rounded, but with teeth around the edges, and often with a deeper lobe on either side of the base. The leaves are smooth and glossy, and a deep, vivid green color. The bark is a smooth. mid-gray, becoming ridged and flaky as the trunk ages. The grown is full and rounded, and trees often branch low-down. The stems have 3-inch-long sharp spines, sometimes branched, so consider that when choosing a location for planting. Some early pruning of a young tree makes it easy to create a taller trunk, if you need clearance underneath.
In spring, as the new leaves emerge, the fun starts. Clusters about 3 inches across, made up of many small white flowers, smother the branches, making a lovely showing in the garden. These fade, and the tree is a handsome summer tree of lustrous leaves and dappled shade. In fall the leaves put on a dramatic display of scarlet, orange and purple, before falling to the ground. By then the berries have ripened, and the tree is covered with clusters of bright red berries, each about ¼ inch across, but in large bunches. These last almost all winter, being eventually taken by birds such as cedar waxwings, mockingbirds and chickadees. As a final bonus the berries are edible. They are not particularly tasty raw, and have many seeds, but they do make excellent jellies high in vitamins and minerals, so you can add this tree to your edible garden.
The Washington Hawthorn is hardy all the way into zone 3, but it also grows well in all but the hottest areas. Plant it in full sun, or perhaps in very light or partial shade. It grows well in any well-drained soil, and hawthorn trees are known for their ability to thrive in alkaline and chalky soils, so this tree is an excellent choice if you have that kind of soil, with a pH as high as 8.0. Water young trees regularly for the first season or two, but after that this tree is moderately drought resistant. It is resistant to some hawthorn diseases, and it is generally free of important pest or disease problems. Deer are hard to predict, but with its thorn this tree is usually not bothered by them.
The Washington Hawthorn, Crataegus phaenopyrum, must have been a cheering sight to the early settlers, when they discovered it growing wild throughout the eastern and southern parts of the country, outside the deep south. It is similar in appearance to the European hawthorn, a familiar tree to them, with deep connections in folklore. The wood is very hard, and often used to make durable tools. It usually grows on the edges of woods, or in open ground, and it can often be found growing in older gardens. This native American tree is an heirloom species and deserves to be widely grown. It was called the Washington Hawthorn because it was grown commercially near Washington, D.C. in the late 1700s, presumably for lumber and the nutritious fruit. If you are looking for something different, yet beautiful and easy to grow, this is a tree you must consider. Our trees are grown from seed taken from selected top-quality specimens, so they grow into vigorous trees quickly. This native tree is in high demand, so order now while we still have stock available.