How to Grow and Care for Indian Hawthorn

This small, slow-growing shrub is great for warmer climates

Indian hawthorn shrub with white star-shaped flowers in sunlight closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica) is a relatively small shrub that naturally grows in a neat, rounded shape but can grow up to 3 to 6 feet tall. Despite its common name, it doesn't solely grow in India. It comes from China and grows in other parts of Asia and Australia. It’s a great landscaping choice for warmer climates to grow as hedges, foundation plantings, and more. It even does well as a container plant. Like other hawthorn plants, it is not toxic to humans or pets. It is also not an invasive species.

This evergreen shrub features slightly bronze foliage that matures to a deep green color. Its oblong leaves are roughly 2 to 4 inches long with a leathery texture and serrated edges. In the spring, the shrub bears showy, fragrant, light pink or white flowers that grow in clusters. The blooms are star-shaped with five petals. Small, dark blue fruits appear after the shrub flowers and can remain on the plant through winter unless they’re eaten by wildlife. This shrub has a relatively slow growth rate and should be planted in the early spring.

Common Name Indian hawthorn
Botanical Name  Rhaphiolepis indica 
Family Rosaceae
Plant Type  Shrub
Mature Size 3–6 ft. tall and wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Moist, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Pink, white
Hardiness Zones 8–10 (USDA)
Native Area Asia

Indian Hawthorn Care

Indian hawthorn shrubs are relatively easy to care for as long as you plant them in the proper growing conditions. They prefer a sunny spot with well-drained soil and good airflow. Damp conditions can promote disease in the shrubs.

Plan to water young shrubs regularly to maintain even soil moisture. Mature Indian hawthorn shrubs only need water if you have a stretch without rainfall. Moreover, fertilizing and pruning will typically only be annual tasks.

Indian hawthorn shrub with deep green oblong leaves surrounding red and yellow buds in sunlight

The Spruce / K. Dave

Indian hawthorn shrub growing in a rounded shape near street

The Spruce / K. Dave

Indian hawthorn shrub with waxy oblong leaves in sunlight

The Spruce / K. Dave

Rhaphiolepis indica in bloom
KY / Getty Images

Light

This shrub does best in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. However, it can tolerate light shade, though it will be healthier and flower better with full sun.

Soil

Indian hawthorn can tolerate many soil types as long as there is good drainage. Soggy soil can cause root rot on the shrub. Moreover, it prefers a soil pH that’s slightly acidic to slightly alkaline. 

Water

A moderate amount of soil moisture is ideal for Indian hawthorns. Young shrubs prefer consistently moist (but not soggy) soil, while established shrubs have some drought tolerance. When the ground begins to dry out due to a lack of rainfall, give the shrub a good soaking but avoid overhead watering, which can spread fungal disease.

Temperature and Humidity

This shrub thrives in warm climates with mild winters. It’s been known to tolerate temperatures down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, but the prolonged cold can damage the foliage and even kill the plant. On the warm end, the shrub can handle temperatures well into the 90s. It prefers a moderate amount of humidity. 

Fertilizer

Indian hawthorn shrubs aren’t heavy feeders. However, they will benefit from a feeding in the spring of an all-purpose, slow-release fertilizer. For the amount to use, follow product label instructions. Compost mixed into the soil around the shrub can also encourage healthy growth.

How to Plant and Spacing

Indian hawthorn is primarily propagated by cuttings. So, once a cutting has developed roots and new growth, it is ready for transplanting to its permanent spot. Space plantings 18 to 24 inches apart to accommodate its expected growth. Plant the transplant in the hole, covering the soil to the same level on the stem as its former container. Mulch over the top and water deeply.

Do not plant it in a shady spot. It will get scraggly, losing its compact growth habit as it grows out searching for the sun. It can tolerate afternoon shade as long as it has full sun for most of the day. Also, it can handle most soil types, but if the soil is clay or sand, mix in some compost to enrich it, encouraging healthy growth.

Types of Indian Hawthorn

There are several varieties of Indian hawthorn, including:

  • Rhaphiolepis indica ‘Little Pinkie’: This variety has pink flowers and can bloom twice a year in the spring and the fall. It only grows to about 2 feet tall and sports grayish-green foliage.
  • Rhaphiolepis indica ‘Indian Princess’: This variety grows to about 4 feet tall and wide, and it bears white and pink flowers with bright green foliage.
  • Rhaphiolepis x ‘Montic’: This hybrid is larger than the typical shrub, growing up to 24 feet tall and 10 feet wide. It bears pink flowers in the spring.
Rhaphiolepis indica 'Little Pinkie' blooms
Little Pinkie Mayerberg / Getty Images
Rhaphiolepis indica 'Indica Princess' blooms
Indica Princess seven75 / Getty Images

Pruning

These shrubs don’t need a lot of pruning, as they naturally grow in an aesthetically appealing mounded shape. If you’d like to tweak the shape of your shrub, lightly prune it just after it’s done flowering. You can remove any dead, damaged, or diseased stems at any point in the year.

Propagating Indian Hawthorn

The common method for Indian hawthorn in the nursery trade is propagation from semi-hardwood cuttings (stems that are already firm but still young enough to bend easily and snap when broken) taken in midsummer:

  1. Choose a vigorous branch 4 to 6 inches long with a few nodes. Remove leaves from the lower third of the cutting.
  2. Dip the stem in rooting hormone. Plant the cutting in a damp mixture of potting mix.
  3. Keep the pot in a location with bright indirect light and water regularly. The roots begin to form in about 10 weeks.

How to Grow Indian Hawthorn From Seed

Most Indian hawthorn grown in the landscape are cultivars. Growing them from the seeds of your shrub will likely not produce a plant true to the parent plant. Therefore it is not recommended to grow Indian hawthorn from seed.

Potting and Repotting Indian Hawthorn

If you’re planting Indian hawthorn in a container, use a pot with ample drainage holes and a loose potting mix to ensure good drainage. For the container to accommodate the shrub for two to three years before repotting it, choose one whose diameter is at least 6 inches or more inches larger than the root ball of your plant. 

When the plant starts to outgrow its container, choose the next container size and replant it in a fresh potting mix.

Overwintering

Indian hawthorn is not winter hardy below USDA zone 8, and the container must be brought inside for the winter. Place it in a spot where it still gets full sun. However, when the shrub is not actively growing in the winter, reduce its watering. Do the finger soil test and only water when at least the top two inches are dry.

How to Treat Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Indian hawthorns are susceptible to insect pests, including aphids, nematodes, and scale. Watch out for leaf damage or discoloration, and use an organic neem oil spray to combat any infestation. Furthermore, shrubs are vulnerable to fungal diseases, which can cause leaf damage and loss. Prevent such diseases by keeping the foliage dry and ensuring good air circulation. 

How to Get Indian Hawthorn to Bloom

Indian hawthorn not blooming or blooming poorly can be due to several things. Too much nitrogen fertilizer produces lots of foliage but no flowers, so you might need to look at the fertilizer label and switch to a product with more phosphorus. Improper pruning is another possibility; you might have accidentally removed the flower buds if you pruned the shrub early in the year and didn't wait until after the bloom. Lack of sunlight can also be a reason for the shrub not blooming as expected.

FAQ
  • What causes brown spots on Indian hawthorn?

    Indian hawthorn is susceptible to leaf spot fungus, often spread by overhead watering. The fungus causes leaf discoloration, leaf drop, and limb dieback, making the plant look highly unattractive.

  • Does Indian hawthorn have a deep root system?

    The shrub is a popular choice for plantings near buildings or foundations because it does not have a deep root system.

  • Will deer eat Indian hawthorn?

    Deer like to munch on Indian hawthorn shrubs, especially on the tender young leaves and also during the winter. If your area has a large deer population, you will likely need to protect your shrubs or consider planting something else.

Article Sources
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  1. Raphiolepis indica. University of Florida.