Finding a tree with four-season appeal

One of our specimen trees is nearly kaput, so I've been looking for a suitable replacement that I can transplant this spring in full sun and in soil that drains freely.

Any new tree should also be short enough to fit into the designated space —no taller than 20 feet — and able to successfully deal with our area's weather and pests.

Except I also want a tree that will bloom during spring or summer, and then produce showy —though not messy — fruits during fall for winter viewing. In other words, I want a tree that has four-season appeal.

Of the trees that fit my criteria, the leading candidate is Crataegus inermis, a drought-tolerant variety of cockspur hawthorn.

Native to Asia, Europe and North America, hawthorns are short, deciduous (leaf-losing) trees and shrubs that get no taller than 50 feet.

Inermis, on the other hand, only grows 20 feet tall. Additionally, it produces 2- to 3-inch clusters of flowers during spring that are followed by 3/4-inch, round and red fruits in the fall. Fruits persist through winter. Plus birds feed on the fruits after they've been softened by repeated freeze-thaw cycles.

What really sets inermis apart from all other hawthorns, however, is that it has no thorns – an important attribute, incidentally, since I don't want to worry about being pricked while mowing the lawn or pruning unwanted wood.

Which reminds me: Similar to other hawthorns, inermis wood is hard enough and rugged enough to make tool handles. Yet its blooming and fruiting branches are pretty enough to display as cut flowers.

In fact, hawthorn cuttings were once used as festive decorations during ancient Greek weddings, and although the real reason for using hawthorn branch cuttings as wedding decorations has long-since been lost to history, perhaps it's because their thorns discouraged brides and grooms from getting last-minute, cold feet. Though maybe, too, it's because hawthorn flowers and berries have historically symbolized fertility.

This week in the garden

The winter solstice has passed, and the days are slowly but surely getting longer. This is the time of year, then, when I prune and repot our houseplants, because before too long, they'll be responding to the extra hours of daylight with growth spurts.

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