Add Early Spring Color with Witch Hazel

By Kerry Ann Mendez

The cheerful flowers of Witch Hazel (Hamamelis) brightening the winter landscape is certainly a welcome sight. These wispy, crinkly, ribbon-like flowers are the heralders of spring. A deciduous shrub, Witch Hazel can range in height from around 10 feet to 20 feet and grows in full sun to part shade (although it will produce more flowers in full sun, and especially in colder zones). Most varieties have a lovely vase-shaped habit and their flowers can be various shades of yellow, copper or red with the occasional fragrance. Plus, Witch Hazel's eye-catching show will continue into the fall thanks to leaves that turn a brilliant yellow-orange.

Although most Witch Hazels bloom in mid to late winter, American Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), which is a native to North America, will bloom in late October and early November and provide a dazzling late season display as well as a terrific food source for pollinators. Its soft yellow flowers will remain on smooth gray branches long after the golden yellow leaves drop. American Witch Hazel grows wild all around my Kennebunk condominium, making it a personal favorite of mine.

Some popular winter flowering varieties are in the x intermedia group, a cross between Chinese (mollis) and Japanese (japonica) species. 'Arnold's Promise' (clear yellow flowers), 'Diane' (red to copper-red flowers) and 'Jelena' (copper-orange flowers) are popular varieties.

Most Witch Hazels are hardy in Zones 58, but American Witch Hazel is hardy to Zone 3 (thirty to forty degrees below zero). If you're thinking about adding one of these terrific plants, we recommend an acidic, organically rich soil with good drainage for best results.

Here a few more fun tid bits about these fascinating plants: Witch Hazel branches are often used as divining rods for finding water sources, and the American Witch Hazel's bark can be used as a medicinal and cosmetic astringent.

Since Witch Hazels bloom so early, we typically don't have a large number in stock since they're out of bloom by late April when most folks start visiting Estabrook's. However, we would be happy to order one of these beauties for you from our premier growers. Please contact us for more details - the sooner, the better!

Kerry Ann Mendez KERRY ANN MENDEZ is an award-winning garden educator, author and design consultant based in southern Maine. Her latest book is The Budget-Wise Gardener. You'll now find her at our Kennebunk store consulting on garden design, answering your gardening questions and much more.