How to Grow Indian Hawthorn in Your Garden

Rhaphiolepis indica is commonly known as the Indian hawthorn. It is a slow-growing evergreen shrub from the Rosaceae (rose) family.

It blooms with attractive colorful white and/or pink flowers in the spring. These are fragrant and showy.

The Inidan Hawthorn has fragrant white or pink five-petaled flowers
The Inidan Hawthorn has fragrant white or pink five-petaled flowers, Image by 阿橋 HQ, under creative commons (CC) licence.

It is perhaps the most popularly grown member of the Rhaphiolepus genus, and belongs to the Maleae (or apple) tribe of the family.

The shrub is a native of temperate and sub-tropical climates, with its origins traced to Southern China and South-east Asia.

It is a useful landscaping plant and is often grown as a ball shaped hedge. Plants are also often used by Bonsai enthusiasts.

In addition to its garden use, the plant is beloved by many home chefs as the fruits of some varieties may be used to make jam / jelly.

Fruits are extremely tart when raw, but are not considered poisonous for dogs, cats, and other animals.

Rhaphiolepis indica shrub
Rhaphiolepis indica shrub bearing fruit, image by cultivar413, CC.

Features of the Rhaphiolepis Indica

The shrub is a low-growing plant that can grow 4 to 6 feet tall and wide (1.2 to 1.8 m).

Rhaphiolepis indica produces beautiful star-shaped flowers, about 0.5 inches (1 cm) wide, in shades of white and pale pink.

When the flowers expire, the shrub bears dark blue berries that are loved by wildlife and have culinary use.

The leaves are broad, oblong with a thick and leathery texture, and the edges are serrated. They grow as long as 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm).

New leaves are occasionally bronze-colored, becoming a deep green on maturity. The whole shrub is generally round in shape.

Where to grow the Indian Hawthorn shrub

The US Department of Agriculture advises cultivation in plant hardiness zones 8 to 10. The plant rarely thrives in temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (– 18°C).

Usually, the shrub is colorful from late fall to mid-winter (berries) and in spring (blooms).

It is a year-round shrub that can be planted individually or in a group planting.

Rhaphiolepis indica is excellent for seaside landscapes, around the house foundation, or planted close together to form an informal dense hedge.

Why is the Indian hawthorn perfect for gardeners? It is a neat shrub that does not require a lot of maintenance.

As a year-round plant, it can tolerate pollution, salty environments, drought, heat, and high humidity.

This radiant plant also brings much-needed garden color during winter.

Gardener's HQ Guide to Growing Indian hawthorn

This shrub thrives best when grown in full sun, though they also perform well in partial shade.

It does not require a unique soil pH, but compost use is best in locations where soils are dense and porous.

It will thrive where there is good drainage, and it is important to avoid disturbing the roots.

The plant requires a light general-purpose fertilizer feeding in the spring and fall.

As the plant is naturally round, no consistent pruning is required, though it is necessary for desired shapes if carrying out topiary.

If needed, pruning may be done after flowering so as to not interfere with the next bloom.

Occasionally, deadheading may help to make the shrub more appealing.

The plant is relatively pest-resistant, but proper care is vital to ensure no pests and diseases such as leafspot.

Quick Growing and Care Guide

Scientific Name: Rhaphiolepis indica. Syn. Crataegus indica.

Common Name (s): Indian hawthorn, Hong Kong hawthorn.

Growing Zone (USA / UK Hardiness): USDA Zones 8 to 10. UK and Europe H4 – hardy to about –10°C (14°F).

Best Use: Shrub border, wildlife garden, Hedging, Slopes, Boundaries, Landscaping, Winter interest.

Rhaphiolepis indica hedge
Rhaphiolepis indica used as hedging, Photograph by Bri Weldon, CC.

Plant Details

Life Cycle / Plant Type: Evergreen shrub or small tree. Broadleaf.

Plant Height: 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 m). Tree form can reach about 12 feet (4 m) in height.

Plant Spread: 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 m).

Blooms:  Mid and Late spring.

Flower Details: Perfect flowers. Five petals. White, pink. About 1.5 cm (0.6 inches) in diameters, Loose clusters. Fragrant.

Leaf Foliage: leathery. Toothed margins. Dark green. About 3 to 8 cm (1 to 3 inches) in length.

Fruit: Dark round fruit. Berry-like. Starts green, but turns a purple or blueish black upon maturation.

Indian Hawthorn Springtime cultivar
Springtime cultivar of Indian Hawthorn, Image by manuel m. v., CC.

Growing Conditions and Location

Best Light Conditions: Full sunlight for best results, or areas with afternoon shade (may become scraggly).

Suitable Soil Types: Tolerant of salty soils. Can grow in most soils but moderately fertile ones should give good results.

Soil Moisture: Moist with good drainage, can tolerate dry soils once established.

Sowing, planting, and Propagation: Take cuttings from well wartered plants in autumn, once plants have stopped growing for the season.

Seeds are usually dispersed by birds. Be aware that cultivars may not stay true if grow from seed.

Sow seeds freshly harvested from the berries in late winter. Sow into flats containing a soilless potting mix. Once sown, cover with a thin layer of sand (0.6 cm, 1/4 inch). Sit the flat in water and locate indoors in an area with light shade at about 21°C (70°F).

Once hawthorn seedlings emerge and sprouted a few leaves they should be repotted into 5 cm (2 inch) pots containing a potting soil mix. As before, provide a top layer of thin sand to help protect from crown rot. Provide an initial watering with a weak fertilizer mix.

Once growing strongly, the seedlings can be transferred (in their pots) outdoors in spring (after the frost). Once they have become weather hardened they can be transplanted to their final location in the summer.

Care: Low maintenance plant. Regular watering for juvenile plants. Fertilize in spring. Light pruning to maintain appearance.

Susceptible to Leaf spot (cut off any infected parts to prevent spread, or use a bactericide).

Leaf spot
Leaf spot on Indian Hawthorn plant, Image by Scot Nelson, Public domain.

Fireblight is also fairly common, so don't grow if you are planning to grow fruit tress such as apple or pear nearby.

Wash off aphids with soapy water.

Growing in pots and containers: Not ideal but possible. Use a large round pot filled with a potting mix. Use a bark or straw mulch.

Keep soil moist and use a regular fertilizer. Prune plants in autumn to help maintain shape and to enhance flowering the following spring.

Cultivars and Varieties:

Rhaphiolepis × delacourii 'Coates' Crimson': Slow growing, reaches about 1.5 m (5 feet) in height with a similar spread. Red leaves as a juvenile turning crimson red. Rose colored star shaped flowers bloom in mid spring through early summer. Following flowering, black berries are produced.

Rhaphiolepis X delacourii
Rhaphiolepis crossed with delacourii, photograph by Forest and Kim Starr, CC.

Rhaphiolepis indica 'Pink Lady': Faster growing than most Indian Hawthorn varieties. Reaches from 1.2 to 1.8 m (four six feet) in height and width. Tolerates light shade. Produces fragrant flowers that are a deep and dark pink.

Indian Hawthorn Snow White Cultivar
Indian Hawthorn Snow White Cultivar by Carol VanHook, CC.

Further Information

Miscellaneous: Considered a weed in many parts of Australia, though may have become naturalized.

Can be distinguished from Rhaphiolepis umbellate (Japanese hawthorn) by its pale pink tinged color at the base of its petals and through having deeper toothed leaves.

This plant can help to attract birds to the garden (seeds are naturally spread by fruit-eating birds).

Fairly drought and salt tolerant.

Further Reading and References: Lucid Key Server, and OSU Landscape plants.

Family: Rosaceae (Roses, Apple, Strawberry)

Closely Related Species: Rhaphiolepis umbellate.

I hope that you enjoyed this gardening guide on how to grow Rhaphiolepis indica. You may also enjoy the following growing guides: Aronia melanocarp, How to grow Burnet, and Waldsteinia ternata Growing Guide.

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