Protecting Yourself from Hawthorn Tree Thorns

Hawthorn trees (Crataegus spp.) don’t have needle-sharp thorns to be mean. Like roses, they have them to protect their fruit. Take away the thorns, and their tasty, heart-healthy berries would be defenseless against hungry wildlife. But for anyone wanting to grow hawthorns, their defense mechanism could be a deal breaker. Our tips can help you get around this very thorny problem.


Choose Carefully

Growing small-thorned or nearly thornless hawthorn varieties significantly reduces the chance of injury. Both black and common hawthorns (Crataegus douglasii,, Crataegus monogyna) have 3/8- to 3/4-inch thorns. They grow in USDA zones 4 through 8.

Then there’s ‘Winter King’ (Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’), with everything you’d want in an ornamental tree or hedge:

  • Glossy, deep-green leaves with striking scarlet and purple fall color
  • Graceful cascades of white spring flowers.
  • Clusters of large, bright-red fall berries that persist into winter.
  • Silvery, peeling trunk bark exposing the orange inner bark beneath.

‘Winter King’s’ widely spaced, 1 1/2-inch thorns are easy to avoid or prune. The tree also resists cedar-quince rust and fire blight, two devastating hawthorn diseases.’Winter King’ grows in USDA zones 3 through 7.

Pruning Hawthorn Trees

Unless you protect yourself with the right equipment, pruning hawthorns can be like self-massaging with hypodermics.

Things You’ll Need:

  • Heavy leather gloves, forearm-length.
  • Eye protection.
  • A bamboo pole or garden stake
  • A long-reach swivel-head pruner to grab and hold the cut branches.
  • A tarp large enough to bundle the pruned material.
  • Garden twine.
  • Scissors
  1. Dress in protective clothing, including the long gloves and eyewear.
  2. Hold a stake or bamboo pole in one hand and part the branches blocking the one you want to prune.
  3. Reach past the parted branches with the long pruners and make your cut.
  4. Grip the cut branch with the pruners and pull it free.
  5. Drop the branch on the ground near the tree and repeat for the remaining branches.
  6. Cut two pieces of tarp-length garden twine and space them 3 feet apart on the ground near the branches.
  7. Spread the tarp over the twine.
  8. Use the pruners to move the branches onto the tarp.
  9. Roll the tarp tightly around the branches and secure each end of the bundle with the twine.
  10. Move the bundle to the disposal area, unroll the tarp and release the branches. Depending on its size, this may require two people.

Expert gardener’s tip: When pruning small branches, replace the tarp with layers of newspaper.