HARDINESS: Zones 4 lo 8
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Slightly acid
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Average
PREFERRED LIGHT: Partial shade
ATTRIBUTES: Fragrant crinkled flowers; for beds, foundations, woodland gardens
SEASON OF INTEREST: Winter to early spring and fall
FAVORITES: 'Arnold Promise', 'Diane', 'Carmine Red'; 'Pallida'; H. vemalis; H. virginiana
QUIRKS: Some plants retain brown leaves in winter
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Azalea, holly, mahonia, rhododendron
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Open woodlands or woodland edges
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Essentially problem free
PRUNING: Lives for years; prune to shape plant; remove suckers
CRITTER RESISTANCE: Excellent
SOURCE: Nursery plants
DIMENSIONS: 10-20 ft (3-6.1 m) tall and 8-12 ft (2.4-3.7 m) wide
Witch Hazel in the Landscape
In winter, when they're least expected, witch hazel's clusters of crinkled yellow or coppery red blooms burst forth on bare stems like off-season fireworks. Although the blooms last less than a month and are small and shaggy, fragrant witch hazel flowers inspire winter-weary gardens and the gardeners who keep them.
Witch hazel is valuable enough for its early-season blooms, which shrug off cold. But these deciduous shrubs also boasts outstanding fall color, with the wavy-toothed leaves turning yellow, orange, and red. To make sure you don't miss the cheer this humble shrub has to offer, place it where you can enjoy it: near a driveway or in front of a window. The flowers are particularly stunning when backlit by winter sun, becoming a soft haze of color. An evergreen backdrop helps show off the confetti-like blossoms, which are also pretty companions for bulbs that bloom early in spring.
Wild and Wonderful Witch Hazels
Growing to 20 ft (6.1 m) tall and 15 ft (4.6 m) wide, hybrid witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) is derived from Chinese and Japanese species. Its cultivars are usually grafted onto the hardy roots of a North American native species and have large, very fragrant flower clusters. 'Arnold Promise' is spectacular with abundant golden yellow flowers and a fruity perfume, while the flowers of'Winter Beauty' are tangerine. Red-blooming cultivars are often less fragrant than the others but just as beautiful. Try 'Diane' and 'Jelena' for copper-red flowers and 'Carmine Red' for deep bronze red.
'Pallida' is a popular Chinese witch hazel (H. mollis) grown for its abundant soft yellow flowers on slightly furry branches. Growing to about 10 ft (3 m), it is hardy to Zone 6 and is a good choice for warmer climates. A little hardier is 'Goldcrest'. whose golden blossoms are stained with purplish red at the base.
Vernal witch hazel (H. vernalis). a North American native, has less showy flowers than others, but is still worth growing. Hardy to Zone 4, it has a handsome vase shape and small, apricot, highly scented flowers that curl back up in extreme cold. Another native is common witch hazel (H. virginiana), the source of the medicinal astringent. At 15 ft (4.6 m) tall and wide, with golden yellow flowers in fall, it is excellent for adding color to the edge of a woodland.
Growing Witch Hazel
Plants are sold either in containers or with their rootballs wrapped in burlap. Either way, set them out while they are dormant, in fall or late winter. Set plants at the same depth at which they grew in the field or pot and water them in well. Witch hazels prefer moist soil but will adapt to just about any site. Be sure to allow plenty of room for them to spread.
Witch hazels rarely have problems with pests or diseases and need pruning only to shape the plants or remove damaged branches. Many varieties send out suckers, or underground shoots. Pull them off as soon as they appear, to preserve hybrid plants and stop the spread of native species.