The hardy Hawthorn Bonsai tree

The Hawthorn Crataegus bonsai tree is a unique outdoor specimen. A member of the Roseacea family and highly adaptive, a great choice for ambitious beginners who don’t want to be responsible for the death of such a beautiful part of nature.

They don’t mind wet or dry conditions and continue to thrive irrespective of the location. The most popular to bonsai from the Hawthorn genus that hosts about 200-300 trees is the Crataegus. The shrub native to temperate zones in Europe, Asia and North-Eastern America is commonly known as Maythorn or Quickthorn. An overall artistic appeal surrounds the bonsai that is quite large for the delicate trees.

Powerful roots and fragrant, white (pink if you’re lucky) blossoms make their way out in May. And with autumn we see vibrant red fruits on the tough bonsai. Shrubs like hawthorns may have excellent bonsai properties, but collection has proved to be quite difficult. Unfortunately the plants often die after improper digging up. But after the initial hurdle, 40 year old trunks are made into a stunning bonsai. This work of art could last for almost double the time it spent as a simple shrub. Maintenance and pruning on exceptionally well execution, can mean yours may live to be well over 500 years old. A perfect family heirloom. Especially since enchanting tales of folklore are rooted in the tree. It also serves as a form of protection against evil spirits and is a favorite in traditional medicine to improve circulation.

How long does it take to grow Crataegus (Hawthorn) Bonsai Tree?

Bonsai enthusiasts claim around 5-7 years of care and nurture is required for the shrub to properly ramify or divide into fine twigs. It may need a couple more years for the ramification to mature but you will begin to come closer to a bonsai addition to your home.

The small, dark green toothed leaves of the hawthorn take easily to pruning and ramify without much protest. They develop a good-looking rough bark, that is an ideal feature on bonsai but a fairly slow process. Crataegus’ are fast growing shrubs that easily average 40-60 cm per year. This surely explains the name Quickthorn. Hawthorns are quick to grow but take their time when it comes to maturing their trunks. This means the hedge plant should ideally be around 15-20 years on procurement to bonsai. This will increase your chances of flowering and apple-like fruits as pretty as a picture.

The most important part of beginning or improving your bonsai hobby would be to choose the right shrub. In the case of the Crataegus Hawthorn, trunks are the focal point as is the case for all deciduous trees. Not too straight and good movement with low-lying branches are the aspects to look out for. As we saw earlier, this is often quite difficult in the case of Hawthorns, especially for beginners. But can be easily rectified by a direct procurement from professional Yamadori collectors and bonsai traders.

These are a few pointers and guides to keep in mind throughout the process before you begin transforming your collected Crataegus (Hawthorn) into a bonsai.

Position and lighting

Like every bonsai, Hawthorns need sunlight too. Whether it is direct or partial shade these shrubs are not picky. Smaller specimens need to be protected from winter rains and frost but are otherwise highly tolerant to cold winds.


Well-drained soil that doesn’t easily cause water to pool or puddle with a neutral pH value is what assures the best growth for your bonsai.

Temperature Requirements

Though resistant to a range of temperatures, anything more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit (ca. 32 °C) is dangerous for the tree and its growth.

Watering Needs

The tree will require generous amounts of water, especially during the growing season. The leaf tips turning brown is an indication of dried out roots which is a big no in the bonsai community. Calcareous water is also avoided despite the trees’ ability to cope with quite a range. Special care should be taken to keep the roots moist in winter.


Hawthorns are more apical dominant when grown in favorable conditions. Mature trees in a restrained condition would not be as overtly apical. Once the growth pattern and hormonal changes are understood, flowering and styling can be controlled likewise. Crataegus crus-galli (Cockspur thorn), Crataegus cuneata (Japanese hawthorn), Crataegus laciniata (Cut leaved form) and Crataegus lavigata (Midland thorn) are a few variations most suitable for an aesthetic addition to your feng-shui.

How to plant and grow Crataegus (Hawthorn) Bonsai Tree?

The first step of many to create a successful bonsai is the collection. This step is especially tricky as we saw earlier, so here are a few tips to ensure you get this right.

  1. Trees found in damp soils despite it being the growing season are the ones to look out for. They indicate denser and more compact root balls that could be the key to a successful collection.
  2. Once the potential target is identified, wait for the right time, which is autumn. This is to make sure the leaves have been shed and most of its energy has been stored in the trunk and root system. It is now ready for a hard chop and mold it into what would be its future trunk line.
  3. The next step is patience. By spring new buds would have appeared all over your candidate which means you can proceed to digging a trench of around 2 feet (0.61 meters) around it. This is a rough elimination process of stray roots to promote more compact growth for easy collection.
  4. Shoots will continue to be produced and will eventually become the branch structure. Slow release granules are a viable option to consider if you wish for more vigorous growth.
  5. By the next autumn, leaves fall again which is a sign for heavy pruning to make your bonsai into a suitable bonsai like structure.
  6. The winter after is the ideal time to dig out your tree and nurture it into your bonsai project. Use a large terracotta bulb pan as a new home for your future bonsai.
  7. A combination of pruning, wiring and patience over a period of 3 years will lead up to developing branch structure and thickening of lower branches. A burst of growth that indicates a milestone amongst many in your bonsai journey.

How to care for your Crataegus (Hawthorn) Bonsai Tree?

Patience and a light hand is a god-send through a process that lasts years to manifest into reality. While those 2 are on you, there are care tips and tricks we can guide you through regarding your new project.

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An effective addition for good feng-shui, the Hawthorn Bonsai


The easiest way to propagate a Hawthorn is old-fashioned but effective, through seeds. Seeds are especially reliable in spring and semi-hardwood cuttings for summer. The advanced option of air layering or interrupting the flow of nutrients to force a new branch rarely works with this variant.


Liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks or solid organic fertilizers every 4 is a tried and tested routine for optimum growth. Phosphorus, Potassium and micro nutrients are important with regard to the growth of flowers and fruits. The tree is to be well fertilized with a balanced mix from late winter to late autumn.


Prune heavily on top and lighter at the bottom to promote the strong second break of growth that is very important. By the second growth spurt, it is to be left intact except for budding and shoots from the trunk. The desired branch profile is effectively styled but don’t forget to leave some previous years’ development for extensive ramification. Prune 1-2 twigs harder every year to prevent knuckles from forming. Cuts have to be sealed and always prune close to the buds. Late winter will exhibit apical buds that need to be pruned away. Maintaining apical dominance is important and easily achieved with constant pruning of long shoots for balance.


Wrapping a wire to train your Hawthorn bonsai as you desire is quite easy thanks to flexibility. However, beware of thorns. It is advisable to get rid of them before the important styling process. Majority of the wiring should be done when there is minimal foliage, which is during the dormant winter months. Growing season is apt to wire younger branches and shoots.


Hawthorns need to be re potted only once every 3-5 years as they are not a fan of root displacement. The process is usually undertaken in spring right before the growth begins. Pruning extends to the roots as well and a good one-third can be easily taken care of.

Pests and Diseases

Fire blight, Cedar-hawthorn and quince rust or leaf spot and rot are a few diseases your bonsai can contract. Take the help of a professional gardener if this is to happen. Unwelcome guests can include aphids, mites and caterpillars. These would require a specific pesticide to tackle.