Hawthorn bush

In a climate zone that is conducive to growing just about anything all year ’round, it is often hard to find examples of the changing seasons. Sure there are a few deciduous trees with colorful fall foliage like ash, elm, and ginkgo, but many Southern California gardeners seem to forget the beauty that many other species reveal once they have lost their leaves. Angular branching patterns and even interesting fruits can appear at this time of the year. A seldom-planted member of the rose family, the hawthorn (Crataegus species) is in full glory right now. Actually, this shrub or small tree is quite handsome all year long. In spring, it is covered with small blossoms that give it, and one famous sailing ship, another common name, mayflower, but in fall and winter it is covered with deep red fruits that dangle like Christmas ornaments all along its branches. They look like miniature crabapples, to which they are closely related. In fruit, many birds find it a winter feast that lasts for months. The fruits are tart (you wouldn’t eat one out of hand), but they are full of vitamin C and have been harvested for jelly in times past-two other good reasons, besides their good looks, to plant a hawthorn.

Hawthorn species are native to many regions of the world. The most commonly grown here may be English hawthorn Crataegus laevigata or one of its many selections or hybrids. There are some named varieties that indicate just what color and shape their flowers will be, from pink through rosy red, and all are attractive to bees and other beneficial insects. Some hawthorns are susceptible to fire blight just like ornamental pear, but the U.S. natives, C. viridis and C. phaenopyrum, are usually less prone to this scourge. Both have white flowers in spring and nice green foliage through summer, with a brief flash of color in fall before dropping their leaves to reveal the shiny red fruits.

Hawthorns are tough. They thrive in any soil that is well-drained with little fertilizer. In fact, those grown under more lush conditions may produce water sprouts (weak shoots from low on the trunk) or excessively succulent growth that is more susceptible to blight and insect pests. Give them regular water and stand back to enjoy the show.

December Tips

• Feed cymbidiums for flower production now. Use a formula with high phosphorus (the middle number), such as 15-30-15.

• As deciduous trees lose their leaves, begin pruning and spraying to reduce fungal diseases like peach leaf curl or insects like scale that can overwinter on the bark.

• Light pruning of evergreens can add holiday cheer without harming the parent plant. Don’t leave stubs; cut close to the larger branch with sharp pruning tools.

• You can still plant winter vegetables: cabbage, chard, beets, carrots, radishes, spinach.


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