By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
Perhaps, you grow a mayhaw (Crataegus spp.) tree in a shady spot in your backyard for the fruit to make delicious jellies, sauces, and wines. Read on to learn more.
Some homeowners grow mayhaw trees instead of dogwoods for the early flowering display. Sometimes growth gets out of hand and it is necessary to prune mayhaw trees. Trimming mayhaws is common for those who use them as landscape specimens or in orchards. The round top may become so dense that light can’t reach the interior branches. The tree may be taking up more space than you’d like. These are reasons for mayhaw pruning, as is the yearly removal of root sprouts and basal suckers.
Some of the most necessary pruning begins as you train the mayhaw tree to have a single leader or trunk. Some experts suggest mayhaw pruning should start on the day of planting. This type of pruning is done with many fruit trees to avoid the splitting of the trunk that is possible when double leaders or codominant stems are allowed to grow.
Training the tree to a single leader can begin at an early age if the double leaders are visible. Also, remove branches that grow at two feet (60 cm.) or lower. Sometimes it is necessary to prune mayhaw trees in their first five years to correct problems before they occur. Consider mayhaw pruning to keep your tree open and attractive.
As reasons for pruning mayhaw trees are numerous, it is prudent to learn how to prune mayhaw. This task includes precise cuts for thinning branches to allow for better light penetration causing fruit to grow and ripen more readily. Make cuts as smoothly as possible with sharp cutters. Sanitize pruning tools between cuts to avoid transmission of disease.
Pruning mayhaw trees can be dangerous because of the sharp thorns on the tree. A member of the Hawthorn family, these thorns accompany the fruit and require thick gloves and other protection when pruning. Dispose of pruned materials properly.
Learning when to prune a mayhaw is essential for the overall development of young trees and the maintenance of those that have matured. Mayhaw pruning makes your tree healthy and productive.
This article was last updated on
Mayhaw: A New Fruit Crop for the South
The mayhaw, an edible early ripening hawthorn, is a relatively unexplored and underutilized indigenous fruit tree of the lower southern states. Mayhaws (Crataegus aestivalis [Walter] Torrey & Gray C. opaca Hook. & Arn., C. rufula Sarg.) are members of the Rosaceae, subfamily Maloideae, tribe Crataegeae. This arborescent shrub or round-topped small tree (8-10 m) has outstanding ornamental characteristics (attractive foliage, showy blossoms, clusters of brilliantly colored fruits) and is often armed with thorns. Mayhaws are locally abundant in low, wet areas in the alluvial acid soils of rivers, streams and swamps from North Carolina to Florida and west to Arkansas and Texas, (Fig. 1) (Clewell 1985, Coker and Totten 1945, Correll and Correll 1975, Correll and Johnston 1970, Godfrey and Wooten 1981, Kurz and Godfrey 1962, Mohr 1969, Phipps 1988, Radford et al. 1974, Sargent 1965, Small 1913, West and Arnold 1952). Hawthorns are easily recognized as a group, but species are extremely difficult to distinguish due to polyploidy and apomixis (Cronquist 1981, Phipps 1983). Over 800 species have been described from North America (Bailey 1960, Render 1960) but only those early ripening edible southern U.S. Crataegus, series Aestivales, are considered mayhaws.
Mayhaw trees flower profusely and early (late February to mid-March in southern Georgia, Zone 9A) and the fruit ripens mostly in early May, hence the name mayhaw. Some clones (selections) ripen through June. The fruit is a small pome (8-19 mm diameter), yellow to bright red, fragrant, acid and juicy, resembling cranberries in appearance and crabapples in taste (Fig. 2). Until recently the fruit has only been used locally in marmalades, butters, preserves, jellies, condiments, syrups, wines, desserts and as food for wildlife (Elliot 1971, Gibbons 1974, Halls 1977, Hedrick 1919, Morton 1963, Reynolds and Ybarra 1984, Wood 1864). However, during the last 5-10 years mayhaws have begun to receive attention as a possible source of income for cottage industries. Fruit sells for $2.75-$4.40/kg ($5-$8/gallon) and jelly for $18-00/liter ($8.50/pint). Because demand exceeds supply, many farmers and entrepreneurs are showing interest in the culture and utilization of this crop.
Under natural conditions seed do not germinate until overwintered (Hartmann and Kester 1983). Crataegus species have embryo dormancy and require treatment in a moist medium at low temperature before germination will occur (Schopmeyer 1974). Seeds may be an easy way to propagate clones since nucellar seedlings, which produce fruit like the mother tree, are common in mayhaws (Wayne Sherman pers. commun.).
Mayhaw softwood stem cuttings can also be rooted under intermittent mist or in a humidity chamber during the summer. Dipping the cuttings in a root promoting hormone (8000 ppm K-IBA + 2000 ppm K-NAA) has promoted rooting success of 36.4% for 'Super Spur': and 34.4% for 'T.O. Super Berry' (G.W. Krewer, and J. Gibson, unpubl.). Propagation from hardwood and root cuttings have also been reported by nurserymen, however, no details were revealed.
Mayhaws are easily grafted during dormancy (late winter). A whip and tongue or simple whip graft can be used. Cleft grafting can be used on larger trees.
Mayhaw appears to be initially compatible with any hawthorn species. In Mississippi the parsley haw (C. marshallii Eggl.) is considered an excellent rootstock for C. opaca. Good results have been reported using cockspur (C. crusgalli L.) and Washington hawthorn (C. phaenopyrum [L.f.] Med.) rootstock in Texas for C. opaca. Trials in Louisiana, however, have produced variable results with Washington hawthorn. In Georgia, the hoghaw (C. flava Aiton) which grows on our sand ridges can be used but due to its slow growth rate the mayhaw scions may overgrow the hoghaw rootstock. C. aestivalis can also be grafted onto commercially available Washington hawthorn seedlings, but it is not known how they will perform at maturity Mayhaw seedlings are probably the best choice as a rootstock in damp soils.
About a dozen mayhaw selections have been collected from the wilds (river bottoms, lime sinks, swamps, sloughs) of Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas with attention given to size of fruit, harvest or ripening period and yield (Table 1), but information from field trials is very limited. Most ripen over a 30-day harvest period, but 'Lori' may have 80% of the fruit ripe at one time. Little comparative cultivar information is available at this time, 'Super Spur' appears to be the best from a yield and tree form standpoint. Yields of 30 kg/tree have been reported for 30-40 year old wild mayhaws in Georgia and 60 kg for a 15-year-old 'Super Spur' in Louisiana. Preliminary reports indicate that selected mayhaw clones are adaptable to USDA zones 8 and 9. Although some cultivars have a low chilling requirement and bloom early, other cultivars should be adapted to the piedmont of the southeast. C. aestivalis cultivars may bloom a few days later than C. opaca cultivars and may be better choices further north. Bloom occurs over an extended period of time and the fruit are reported to be fairly frost hardy once past the bloom period. Winter hardiness may be good. There are reports of mayhaws fruiting after -25°C (-13°F) (1981) and two year old trees survived -32°C (-25°F) (1985) without damage (Akin 1985).
Although tolerant of wet, very acid soils, better growth has been observed when mayhaws are planted on well drained, slightly acid soils. Mayhaw trees are long-lived and may have a 9m canopy diameter after 20 years. Therefore current suggested tree spacing for a permanent orchard is 4.6-6.1 m (15-20 ft) in the row and 5.5-6.1 m (18-20 ft) between rows giving (270-400 trees/ha or 109-161 trees/A). Row spacing must be adjusted to fit the equipment if mechanical harvesting of mayhaw is desired. Mayhaws should be trained to a single trunk at the base with the first branches at 45 cm or higher so orchard equipment can be operated under the tree. Yearly pruning to open up the tree canopy for greater light penetration may be necessary with most cultivars. Central leader and modified central leader training systems like those used on apples are suggested.
There is limited information on the pest management of mayhaws however, it is known that they are susceptible to many of the insects and diseases that attack other pome fruits (Crops Res. Div. 1960, Forest Service 1985). Several insects including plum curculio, hawthorn lace bug, flower thrips, roundheaded appletree borer, whitefringed beetle, leafminers, scales and mealybugs feed on the foliage, flower, fruit and wood of mayhaw. The plum curculio in particular has caused extensive damage to fruit in some locations and will probably need to be controlled in future commercial orchards.
There are numerous diseases known to occur on various hawthorn species but little information is available on diseases of mayhaws. Quince rust, (Gymnosporangium clavipes Cke. & Pk.), has been quite severe on some southern Georgia native mayhaws and several C. aestivalis and C. opaca cultivars since 1983. Presently no rust control recommendations are available except the planting of rust-free selections. At this time only two natural pesticides, insecticidal soap and rotenone/pyrethrin, can be utilized for pest control on mayhaws destined for food use.
Although mayhaw appears to be initially compatible on most Crataegus rootstocks, our knowledge of mayhaw rootstocks is rudimentary at best. There is little published information available on the productivity and long term compatibility since mayhaw orchard plantings have existed for less than 5 years. Existing information on methods of propagation is also very limited. Cultivar evaluations have not been conducted in replicated orchard plantings and low-chilling requirements of many cultivars may limit their commercial adaptability to zone 9A or 9B.
While only the jelly manufacturing has been investigated by university or industry personnel, there are many other products made from mayhaws such as juices, jellies, preserves, candies, pastries and wine that could have commercial potential. Thus, the opportunity exists for a greatly expanded market based upon a consistent supply of fruit. If the industry is to seriously develop, cultivars adapted to mechanical harvesting will be needed. Unless problems associated with production are solved, supplies will be too short to allow for alternate product development.
Maple trees may be pruned at any time of the year if the focus is on branches that are dead, dying, damaged or diseased. These branches should be removed from the tree as soon as is practicable. Also remove any branches that present a safety hazard, such as branches in the way of pathways or other hazardous situations.
TIP: it is always advisable to wear a proper protective gear when pruning. This includes hand protection, eye protection, long pants and long sleeves when pruning your maple trees.
Most experts advise that pruning maple trees is best done during late winter or early spring. The trees are dormant during this time and less likely to be harmed by pruning cuts. The tree also has no leaves during this season, making the structural branch framework of the tree visible to the eye. If you can only choose one time of year when to prune maple trees, choose the period after the coldest temperatures of winter have passed but before the early-spring blossom.
“A note about timing when pruning deciduous trees: With few exceptions, the ideal time is late winter or early spring, just before growth begins.”
The Pruning Book, by Lee Reich
Early spring is the time when many maple trees are being tapped in order to collect sap for maple syrup. Sap does tend to bleed from pruning cuts as temperatures warm, but this is not necessarily a bad thing for the tree. In addition to maple syrup, the sap is also useful as a food source for some wilderness creatures.
“Plants such as maples, birches, grapes, and kiwis bleed sap profusely if pruned just as their buds are swelling in spring. The way to avoid this loss of sap is to prune either in winter, when the plants are fully dormant, or in the spring, after growth is underway. The sap loss actually does no harm to the plants, so rushing or delaying pruning on this account is not for your plant’s health but so that you can rest easy.”The Pruning Book, by Lee Reich
As a rule of thumb, pruning during late spring should be done after the tree blossoms. This is a busy time for garden pests and disease, and trimming during late spring can leave cuts vulnerable to illness and insect infestation. Nonetheless, pruning during this time of the year can be beneficial as long as the purpose of your pruning is for safety and aesthetic purposes only.
TIP: make sure to sanitize your pruning tools in order to prevent various diseases from spreading, especially if you’re dealing with multiple trees.
It is also important to be aware that pruning for more than 15% of your maple tree per year can bring more harm than benefit to your plant. Moreover, it is advisable to prune little by little each year, rather than pruning a lot in one go.
“Young maple bark is susceptible to sunburn, so make sure to leave those temporary branches for shade, even if the tree will eventually be high-headed.”
The Pruning Book, by Lee Reich
Avoid pruning maple trees in autumn.
TIP: while young maple trees can be easily pruned using a hand saw, loppers, or pruners, mature and tall maple trees are best pruned by a professional arborist.
Pruning during the fall can cause more harm than benefit to your maple tree. Pruning during fall is not recommended unless the branches of your maple tree are dead, damaged, diseased or dying. Avoiding fall pruning is perhaps the most important guideline to remember while learning when to prune maple trees.
The primary reason why pruning at this time of the year is the worst one is because it stimulates plant growth right when your maple tree should be thinking about going dormant for the winter. This is a time when the tree should be ceasing activity and preparing for cold temperatures rather than putting on tender new growth that can be easily harmed by the cold. Let the tree rest and prune it after the coldest temperatures of winter have passed.
Outgoing links in this post may be affiliate links in which this site receives a portion of sales at no extra cost.
Growing best in wetlands, this southern, indigenous hawthorne has tart, red berries used to make jelly and jam. This page is about growing and caring for Mayhaw trees.
Ask a Question Here are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.
I hunt deer in northeast Florida and have mayhaws growing next to a drain where I hunt. I repeatedly see that the fruit is supposed to turn to a red color yet the ones where I hunt don't seem to do this. Is there a reason for this? Are they different from the norm? Note the fruit taste like a small apple, really no bitterness. Some of the trees have long thorns and some don't. I guess the question is, is this normal for the species?
I also intend to fertilize the trees and read that a 5-10-10 is recommended. I was thinking a 10-10-10 in lieu of the other (probably easier to get). I also read they like a neutral soil, yet today I read they like an acid soil? Which is correct? Your thoughts. Thanks