Plant Vibes: Witch Hazel – She’s a Chilling Beauty
Wouldn’t it be great if you could enchant your garden, and soul, with bursts of color in January, building into a full display of blooms by the end of February? Well you can my pretty, with the shrubby cousins Spring Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), also called Ozark Witch Hazel in its native southern states, and Hybrid Witch Hazel (H. x intermedia). Their spidery, bad hair-day blooms of red, orange or yellow open on sunny days and close when they get chilly, thus they can last for a month or more. In addition witch hazel shrubs offer richly textured, gray-green foliage throughout spring and summer that takes on shades of yellow, apricot or orange in autumn. Witch hazel bark has been used for centuries in medicines and skin care treatments and the shrub’s brazen, snow defying floral display will surely cure the winter blahs.
H. vernalis is hardy to USDA Zone 4 and H. x intermedia to Zone 5. Both prefer sun to partial shade in moist, slightly acidic soil. Depending on variety, they range in mature height from 8-20 feet tall, and are often pruned to grow as small trees. As shrubs, these slow to moderate growers can be easily kept in the 8 foot range with proper pruning. Let them go with just minimal pruning for size or removal of dead branches to achieve a more natural look. Leaf hoppers can be an issue for all witch hazels, but they are otherwise worry free. If left untreated, the hoppers cause leaf spotting and leave behind sticky, honeydew excrement. In the home landscape they can be dealt with using insecticidal soap, pyrethrum or neem.
Spring witch hazel is the easiest to grow overall with reliable, fragrant blooms varying from yellow to orange to red and reaching about 8 feet as a landscape shrub. More named varieties of Hamamelis x intermedia, however are commonly found at garden centers. Look for ‘Jolena’ ( sometimes found as ‘Copper Beauty’ or ‘Jelena’) with coppery blooms tipped with yellow, reaching approximately 15 feet tall and wide or ’Arnold’s Promise’, which blooms later, with yellow flowers tinged red at the base, and is similar in size. ‘Pallida’ labeled alternately as H. x intermedia or H. mollis, is another popular yellow flowered variety averaging 10 feet overall in size and said to have excellent fragrance.
Some x intermedia varieties may have their blooms partially obscured by retained foliage, so you should plant them where they can be easily viewed up close or be willing to take a few moments in December to coax the clinging, dead leaves off the plant for a clear view. Two such varieties worth this extra effort are ‘Sunburst’
A fun late December or early January option for any of the spring blooming witch hazels is to bring some branches inside for forcing. Slit the bottoms of the cut stems and place them immediately in water, then keep them misted or humidified, and not too warm, for about a week. Enjoy your bewitchingly fresh bouquet while the snow flies outside!, offering profusions of intense yellow blooms on a 10 x 8 foot plant and ‘Diane’ with coppery red blooms and an overall size of 20 x 10 feet.
You must be logged in to post a comment.