George or Nathaniel? Hawthorn or Hawthorne?

Keeping with the spirit of Arbor Day, one of the free Arbor Day Foundation trees I will have available soon is the Washington Hawthorn. The Washington Hawthorn tree probably is not what first comes to mind when you are shopping for a landscape tree. That’s too bad because this June bloomer has as much or more to offer the yard as some of the better-known specimens. Find out what those good qualities are and how to grow the tree in your landscape.

Plant taxonomy classifies Washington hawthorn trees as Crataegus phaenopyrum. As members of the large rose family of plants (making them relatives of apple trees), they are deciduous, flowering trees. Washington hawthorn trees attain a height of 25 to 35 feet, with a spread also of 25 to 35 feet. They produce attractive white blooms in clusters, in late spring to early summer.

The Washington Hawthorn blooms in late Spring to early Summer.

These flowers, known for their distinctive odor, yield to first green and then red berries that persist throughout winter. These berries are a favorite snack of wild birds, such as cedar waxwings.

Washington Hawthorn berries will persist all winter until eaten by birds or dropped after several freezes.

The bark of the Washington hawthorn tree is pretty enough to add further visual interest to the winter landscape, and its branches bear thorns. Its summer leaves are a shiny, dark green; its fall foliage ranges in color from orange to red. Washington hawthorn trees are attractive enough to be treated as specimens, and their foliage is dense enough for them to be used as a privacy screen if grown in a mass. Some homeowners take advantage of their sharp thorns and prune them into security hedges. With their dense foliage, they can also serve as small shade trees.

Yes, Virginia, there is a thorn. Prune lower branches to avoid accidental contact.

Grow Washington hawthorn trees in full sun, where the soil has good drainage. Once established, they are reasonably drought tolerant. While many types of hawthorns are subject to a number of diseases, this type is fairly disease-resistant. Fertilize every other year or so in spring with a balanced fertilizer. Little pruning is necessary. These plants are among the many common landscaping plants poisonous to dogs; but, on a positive note, they are deer-resistant.

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Hawthorns in the landscape are very effective.

You will sometimes see the misspelling, “hawthorne” trees. You may even remember seeing the name, “Hawthorne” in a book, convincing you that it is the proper spelling. But, if so, chances are that the book was about literature, not trees. For Nathaniel Hawthorne was a great American writer of the 19th century. But the tree name is spelled without the ‘E’ at the end. It is composed of “haw” (name for the berry of Crataegus laevigata) and “thorn” (for its thorny branches).

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Nathaniel Hawthorne has an “e” – he is not a tree which has no “e”.

For homeowners who grow some of the popular flowering specimens that bloom earlier in the spring (for example, flowering dogwoods), late bloomers such as Washington hawthorn trees can help bridge the gap between the spring’s display of blooms and autumn’s foliage show. For while the blossoms of early bloomers are a pleasant sight for eyes sore from winter’s barrenness, they desert us too quickly. Thoughtful landscape planning demands a yard with four-season interest, and that means managing sequence of bloom.

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