Marty Baker and George Ray McEachern
Texas A&M University
January 27, 1997
Mayhaws (Crataegus aestivalis, C. rufula, or C. opaca) are very common south of the 1,000 hour chill line. They grow under hardwood timber in the wet floodplain soils along creeks and rivers. These small trees are of the Hawthorne family. The fruit is small and apple-like and ripens during the late April and early May in East Texas. They have beautiful white blossoms in the Spring and are desirable as ornamentals as well as for wildlife cover and forage.
Information and observations are very limited on some varieties. Most ripen over a 10 to 30 day harvest period, but some varieties may have 80% of the fruit ripe at one time. ‘Super Spur’ and ‘Super Berry’ seem to have the best yield and tree form. These varieties bloom early so they are best grown in central East Texas and Southeast Texas. The ‘Super Spur’ has chilling problems during mild winters in the Beaumont area. ‘Big Red,’ ‘Winnie Yellow,’ ‘Highway Red,’ ‘Highway Yellow,’ ‘T.O. Warren Superberry,’ Angelina, Harrison, Big Mama, and the #1 Big varieties usually bloom later and are better adapted to Northeast Texas. A potential grower in Northeast Texas should still plant ‘Super Spur’ and ‘Super Berry’ mayhaws due to the potential of these two selections when late freezes do not damage the crop.
Mayhaws are found in swampy areas and are tolerant of wet soils, but grow best in moist, well-drained soils. Soil should have a pH 6.0 to 6.5 prior to planting.
Mayhaws can be propagated by the seed of ripe fruits, by rooted cuttings, or by grafting the mayhaw onto a rootstock. Seed viability varies greatly between mayhaw trees. Many of the seedlings will be true to type. This is very unusual when propagating by seed. Cuttings may be rooted under mist systems or in a humidity chamber in the summer. A root-promoting hormone dip may help rooting. Of course, cuttings will produce fruit exactly like the fruit of the mother tree. Mayhaws appear to be initially graft-compatible with any hawthorne. In East Texas, the parsley hawthorne is considered an excellent rootstock. Mayhaws can be grafted onto Washington hawthorne seedlings which are available commercially, but their performance at maturity has not been determined. Mayhaw seedlings are probably the best choice as a rootstock, especially in damp soils.
Established trees should receive one pound of 5-10-10 slow release fertilizer per inch of trunk diameter in February or early March. Repeat the application in late August or early September if the trees are not vigorous and if adequate water is available to prevent scorching. One year-old trees should receive 1/2 pound of 5-10-10 in February and 1/4 pound in March and May. Broadcast the fertilizer evenly under the tree to avoid burning the roots. Do not apply fertilizer within eight inches of the trunk. Mayhaw trees are long-lived and may have a 30-foot diameter canopy after 17 years and grow to 30 feet tall. With this in mind, plant the trees 15 to 20 feet apart in the row with 18 to 20 feet between the rows.
Train mayhaws to a single trunk at the base. The first branches should start at 18 inches or more if equipment will be operated under the tree. Mayhaws have a tendency to produce an open canopy at maturity. Occasional pruning is necessary to open the tree up for greater light penetration. The trees will adapt to a modified central leader training system when one main trunk is promoted by pruning. This is a common method of training apple trees. Mayhaws will also adapt to a multiple leader training system utilized by southern pear and apple growers to combat fire blight infections and weather damage. Fire blight occurs on mayhaws, but is usually not devastating to the crop.
Since mayhaws are grown in the wet floodplains along rivers the traditional harvesting procedure takes advantage of the water as a mode of transportation. Fruit ripens in early May, falls into the nearby water, and moves downstream. It can be harvested by someone shaking the tree so that the fruit falls into the water, and someone else trapping the floating fruit downstream. Commercially, the fruit is harvested by placing a tarp or canvas under the tree and shaking it to collect the fruit.
Insects, Pests, and Diseases
The plum curculio, aphids, flat-headed apple borers, white flies, and foliage feeders are known to attack mayhaws. Plum curculio has caused extensive damage to fruit in some locations and requires a spray program as part of an integrated pest management program in most areas. Deer and rabbits can destroy a containerized plot of nursery grown mayhaws or an orchard in a short period of time. Quince rust is the most common disease of mayhaws, and was severe in East Texas in 1990. Cedar-apple rust and juniper rust also attack mayhaws. The best way to control rust is to make selections from rust-free plants in a heavy rust year. Several fungicides are used to control rust diseases in apple orchards. Registration is being sought under special use laws for several chemicals to prevent rust disease on mayhaws.
Mayhaw fruit can be made into jams and jellies, and even wine. Traditional Southern rural families still make a big batch of mayhaw jelly every year.