Indian hawthorns are great, low-maintenance shrubs that don’t grow too large or need to be trimmed too often to stay neat and tidy in the garden. There are a few important things to know before planting this beauty, so read on to learn more.
What Is an Indian Hawthorn?
The Indian hawthorn, Hong Kong hawthorn or Rhaphiolepis indica is a popular evergreen shrub of the Rosaceae family, with several accepted wild varieties and many cultivars available to choose from.
In the garden, the Indian hawthorn plant will usually grow as a neat, rounded, and dense evergreen shrub of 3-7ft (0.9-2.1m) in height and with a width of 6-10ft (1.8-3m). Larger cultivars and wild specimens may, however, take a tree-like form and grow as tall as 13ft (4m).
These plants are native to Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam where they can be found growing in a variety of habitats. (1)
This plant has simple, 2-4inch (5-10cm) long greyish-green leaves that are alternately arranged and have serrated margins. Young branches are purple-brown maturing into grey-brown color.
Rhaphiolepis indica Flowers
Indian hawthorn flowers measure around half an inch (1-1.5cm) across and occur in terminal clusters. These five-petaled blossoms range in color from white to pink and occur in the late winter to spring, in the months of April to May.
These flowers can have a mild but pleasant fragrance and eventually mature into small round fruits, measuring less than half an inch (1.3cm) in diameter. These purple to black fruits may persist through the winter and are loved by birds.
Several cultivars are available and care should be taken to select the option most suited to your needs. ‘Eleanor Tabor’, ‘Eskimo’, ‘Georgia Charm’, ‘Georgia Petite’, ‘Indian Princess’, ‘Majestic Beauty’, ‘Olivia’ and ‘Snow White’, are good options with relatively good disease resistance. (2)
A related species known as Rhapiolepis umbellata is also sometimes referred to as Indian hawthorn, although this plant is usually known as the Japanese hawthorn or Yeddo hawthorn. These are also great evergreen shrubs and can be grown in much the same way as R. indica.
How To Grow an Indian Hawthorn
Indian Hawthorns can be grown from seed or semi-ripe cuttings taken in late winter. These plants are quite drought tolerant once established but should be kept watered once a week or so for best growth. It is important to water this plant at ground level rather than wetting the foliage.
These plants should always be grown in well-drained soils since they don’t appreciate having ‘wet feet’. If your planting site has poorly drained, clay soils, consider spending a little time loosening the soil, adding organic material or compost, and increasing the soil depth before planting.
Plant these shrubs in full sunlight or areas receiving at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. These plants will grow in partial shade but will not have as neat and dense of a growth form or flower as well. An important reason for planting these shrubs in full sunlight, however, is to prevent or minimize the potential for leaf spot infection.
Another important factor to consider when growing these plants is their spacing. Measurements will vary with cultivar but aim to maintain a decent amount of airflow between plants to reduce the chance of leaf-spot infection.
These plants are not particularly cold hardy and do best when planted in USDA Zones 8 through 11. Unusually harsh winters may still cause some damage in zone 8 but generally, these plants will do just fine there. These plants are also known to be relatively salt-tolerant, a definite advantage for use in coastal areas.
Care and Maintenance
These plants are not fast-growing and can be kept at a height of around 3ft (0.9m) quite easily. With a naturally rounded and neat growth form and a slow growth rate, these plants do not need much pruning. If you do wish to prune these plants, consider doing this every 2 to 3 years rather than annually.
Being a plant that produces flowers in terminal (at the ends of branches) clusters, frequent pruning will definitely reduce the number of flowers produced. The new growth you will stimulate after pruning is also more susceptible to leaf spot, which is another good reason not to bring the trimmers out too often.
When necessary, fertilize these plants in the spring rather than the summer. You don’t want all that sensitive new growth being exposed to the cold winds of winter without getting a chance to toughen up.
As you’ve probably already realized, this plant is not without pest problems, the most important of which is entomosporium leaf-spot, a destructive fungal disease. There are, however, a couple of things you can do to minimize the chance of infection and manage the problem if you find it affecting your plants.
Firstly, inspect plants for leafspot before buying them if possible. Starting with healthy plants is important. Having purchased healthy plants, plant them in the right place. That means, a sunny location, with enough spacing between plants to allow for good airflow. Humid, damp, and stuffy locations are your enemy here.
Water your plants at soil level, keeping the foliage dry as much as possible, and avoid pruning too often. It’s a good idea to periodically remove fallen leaves from the ground below plants. Affected plants can also be treated with a fungicide like Daconil. These products can also be used as a prevention, rather than a cure, in especially wet seasons.
Indian hawthorn bush has a multitude of horticultural uses and makes for a great ground-cover, informal hedge, or foundation planting. Unfortunately, mass-planting may increase the likelihood of disease in these plants so consider something a little less conventional like training this plant as a small tree, growing a specimen in a container, or even taking the time to grow a beautiful bonsai.
The fruits of this plant are said to be edible if cooked and the plant has a long history of use as a traditional dye in parts of Asia.
Birds will enjoy the fruits of this plant but an important thing to consider about this plant is its apparent popularity with deer.
This plant is a great choice for those wanting a small to medium sized shrub with a dense and neat growth form. Plant this shrub in USDA hardiness zones 8-11 and take steps to avoid the dreaded leaf spot.
Happy gardening and check our blog for more different types of bushes to grow.
(1) Liu, B., Wang, Y., Hong, D. & Wen, J. A Synopsis Of The Expanded Rhaphiolepis (Maleae, Rosaceae)
(2) Thurn, M., Lamb, E. & Eshenaur, B. Disease And Insect Resistant Ornamental Plants.
*photo by Mayerberg/depositphotos