Hawthorn Tree Care and Growing Tips

Updated: Oct. 23, 2023

Bring birds, butterflies and bees to your backyard with a hawthorn tree! Here's how to grow one—and why it's a great choice for wildlife.

How to Grow a Hawthorn Tree in Your Yard

hawthorn treeGl0ck/shutterstock
Hawthorns produce berries in autumn
  • Botantical name: Crataegus spp.
  • Zones: 3 to 9
  • Attracts: Birds, butterflies, and bees
  • Light needs: Full sun
  • Size: 20 to 45 feet tall
  • Grown for: Seasonal interest
  • Foliage: Burgundy to orange autumn color
  • Popular species: Washington (C. phaenopyrum) thrives in much of the U.S.; Crusader cockspur (C. crus-galli inermis) is thornless; black (C. douglassii) features edible fruits.

All types of hawthorns thrive in full sun and grow 20 to 45 feet tall. When planting a hawthorn tree, it’s best to plant in spring or fall, when there’ll be less environmental stress on the tree. Hawthorns are tolerant of a variety of soils, but they’ll grow best in well-draining soil. Fertilize the tree in fall.

Cardinal Vd 3mas7034kSteve and Dave Maslowski
Northern cardinals use native hawthorns for shelter from predators and, in spring, as nesting sites.

Hawthorn trees bloom in the springtime. Ensuring your hawthorn tree blooms is usually a matter of keeping the soil moist—watering the tree might be necessary if the tree isn’t getting enough water from natural sources.

In addition, hawthorns are susceptible to some tree diseases, such as fire blight and hawthorn rust. Especially in the case of hawthorn rust, which can’t be reversed after it sets in, it’s a good idea to check if the species you’re considering planting is rust-resistant. Common insect issues include aphids, spider mites and cankerworms.

This is why dogwood trees are great for birds.

Hawthorn Tree Benefits

Magnolia Warbler Bmr0019Bill Leaman
Magnolia warbler in a hawthorn tree

Commonly used as a border plant in backyard landscapes, hawthorn is a wildlife haven that feeds nectar-seeking butterflies in spring and hungry songbirds in autumn. And hawthorns are host plants for larva of many butterflies, including white admiral and gray hairstreak.

Many hawthorn tree varieties have thorns, which are a blessing for nesting or roosting birds seeking shelter from predators. However, humans beware!

Learn how to grow a tulip poplar tree.