How to Prune Cockspur Hawthorn


Cockspur hawthorne is a small, deciduous tree native to the Western U.S., which forms a compact, rounded shape and grows from 20 to 30 feet high. Its drought resistance makes it a useful addition to the water-wise landscape. These trees have short trunks and dense lower branches that grow close to the ground and can easily be pruned into a hedge. This tree is best planted away from walkways, activity areas, and children's play areas because it bears very long spines. Cockspur hawthorne's peeling bark, orange-red fall foliage and pretty fruits make it an attractive landscape element.

Pruning to Make a Hedge

Step 1

Decide whether you want a formal or informal hedge. This tree has a naturally compact growth habit and can be maintained as a natural looking hedge with less maintenance. You may prefer a formal hedge instead, if the rest of your landscape reflects formal geometry.

Step 2

Protect yourself from the formidable spines by wearing gloves and long sleeves. Clip the newest growth to the height you want in late winter or early spring. Follow the rounded shape of the tree if you like an informal look. Prune trees into a formal hedge by squaring off the top and sides. Taper the hedge from top to bottom for either type of hedge, leaving the bottom slightly wider so that the lower branches won't be shaded by the upper growth.

Step 3

Place all clippings on a tarp for easy collection and disposal. Pay extra attention to this precaution to avoid stepping on the spines, which can easily pierce a thin-soled shoe or wheelbarrow tire.

Pruning a Specimen Tree

Step 1

Prune away lower branches with the pruning saw to expose the trunk in late winter to early spring. Do this gradually, over several seasons, uncovering more of the trunk as the trees grow.

Step 2

Choose three to five vertical trunks at wide angles to become the new main trunks and saw off any others. Remove crossing branches, suckers and unhealthy growth.

Step 3

Give your tree a balanced shape by clipping off any stray branches that stick out past the others.

Tips and Warnings

  • Use extreme caution around the long spines because they can cause serious injury.

Things You'll Need

  • Work gloves
  • Pruning saw
  • Hedge clippers
  • Tarp


  • University of Texas at Austin, Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center
  • University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture
Keywords: Pruning Cockspur Hawthorne, Cockspur Hawthorne Hedge, Pruning Crataegus crus-galli

About this Author

Malia Marin is a landscape designer and freelance writer, specializing in sustainable design, native landscapes and environmental education. She holds a Masters in landscape architecture, and her professional experience includes designing parks, trails and residential landscapes. Marin has written numerous articles, over the past ten years, about landscape design for local newspapers.