Seeing Red

Let this tree’s amazing show of berries cast off your winter blues.
Steve Bender

Most January landscapes contain about as much color as the front page of The Wall Street Journal. In fact, often the biggest show in the whole yard is that awful dyed-red mulch. Well, here’s a tree that can melt away winter’s blandness and end our dalliance with gaudy bits of wood. It is called ‘Winter King’ green hawthorn, and it truly merits its royal title.

Winter’s King
This superior selection of our native green hawthorn (Crataegus viridis) is easy to grow, tolerates drought and most soils, resists fireblight, and possesses few thorns. Clusters of moderately showy, white blooms appear in midspring, followed by spectacular orange-red fruit that ripens in October and lasts all winter, providing food for the birds.

In youth, this deciduous tree grows upright and vase-shaped. Eventually, it develops tiers of horizontal branches reminiscent of flowering dogwood. Silvery-gray branches and twigs gleam in the sun, making the color of the fruit really pop. Expect the tree to reach 15 to 20 feet high and 20 to 25 feet wide at maturity. It’s suited to the Upper, Middle, and Lower South.

Where To Plant It
‘Winter King’ hawthorn is a good choice for growing in the lawn, at a corner of the house, and at the edge of a patio or courtyard. You can also use several to line a walk, drive, street, or parking area. Prune off the lower branches at the trunk if they begin to get in the way of people, lawn mowers, or vehicles.

For best results, give the tree full to partial sun and well-drained soil. Don’t plant one within several hundred yards of an Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), or a rust disease that spreads between the two plants will disfigure the hawthorn fruit and ruin the display. If this happens, you’ll immediately have to go out and spread more red mulch to compensate. Then we’ll be right back where we started.

Other Great Options
If you can’t find ‘Winter King’ hawthorn locally, look for these small trees with showy winter fruit and berries.

  • Flowering crabapple (Malus sp.)―US, MS, LS, CS
  • Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) ―US, MS, LS, CS
  • Korean mountain ash (Sorbus alnifolia) ―US, MS, LS
  • Kousa dogwood (C. kousa)―US, MS, L S
  • ‘Nagami’ kumquat (Fortunella margarita ‘Nagami’)―LS, CS, TS
  • Possumhaw (Ilex decidua)―US, MS, LS, CS
  • Yaupon (I. vomitoria)―US, MS, LS, CS, TS