Hawthorns brighten winter landscape, but diseases and thorns are drawbacks

Backyard Q&A

April 21, 2002|By Dennis Bishop | By Dennis Bishop,Special to the Sun

Q. I noticed several beautiful hawthorn trees in Baltimore this winter and I am considering purchasing one for my yard. Is this a good tree for our area?

A. There are a number of nice ornamental hawthorns sold at nurseries and garden centers. Several of these are native to our area of the country, but they may not be the best trees for your landscape.

Hawthorns are beautiful trees that have white, flattop flowers in spring and outstanding red to orange fruits that ripen in fall. Their fruits are their most appealing characteristic because they often persist through Christmas and provide excellent winter color in the landscape. However, hawthorns have two major drawbacks. First, they are very prone to insect and disease problems. The worst of these are rust diseases, which disfigure the fruit. Also, as the name implies, hawthorns have long sharp thorns, so it would not be a good tree for areas where children are playing.

Q. I planted some rhododendrons in our yard two years ago, but they have slowly declined since that time. They are alive, but they have yellowed and look weak. Do you know what would cause this problem?

A. There are several reasons why rhododendrons might look like this. One cause would be poor soil. While rhododendrons grow naturally in many of the mountainous areas of eastern North America, they do not grow naturally in Baltimore. In general, our soils are too heavy and do not contain enough organic matter to support rhododendrons. If you decide to plant new rhododendrons, be sure to supplement the entire planting area with leaf mulch, before you plant them. Also, be sure to do a soil test. Rhododendrons like acid soil and will not grow well in neutral or alkaline soils. The other cause of the discoloration would be excess sun. Rhododendrons should be planted in partial shade and not in full sun.


1. This is the last frost date for the inner area of Baltimore City. Most summer bedding plants and vegetables can be planted now. However, it is still too early to plant these plants in outlying areas that are more frost-prone.

2. Spring fertilization of lawns is often not necessary. If your lawn is weak, you might consider one spring fertilizer application. This should be done as soon as possible.

3. Monitor your garden for potential problems while mowing the lawn or working in the beds. By keeping an eye out for problems now, you can avoid them later.

Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1-p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site, www.agnr.umd.edu / users / hgic.

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