Although the blooms last less than a month, witch hazel flowers inspire winter-weary gardens and the gardeners who keep them. Here’s how to make them part of your garden.
1. Pick the right variety
There are plenty of different kinds of witch hazel. These are some of the more popular species:
- Hybrid witch hazel 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’ has abundant golden yellow flowers and a fruity perfume.
- 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. These are hardy from Zone 6.
- ‘Pallida’ is a Chinese witch hazel grown for its abundance of soft yellow flowers. Growing to about three metres, it’s hardy to Zone 5 and 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, a North American native, has a handsome vase shape and small, apricot-coloured and highly scented flowers. It’s hardy to Zone 5.
- Another native is common witch hazel, the source of the medicinal astringent. With golden yellow flowers in fall, it’s excellent for Zone 4.
2. Pick the right spot
- 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 colour.
- An evergreen backdrop helps show off the confetti-like blossoms.
- Witch hazel flowers are pretty companions for bulbs that bloom early in spring.
3. Plant them in moist soil
- 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 hazel prefers moist soil but will adapt to just about any site.
- Be sure to allow plenty of room for each plant to spread.
4. Keep them safe and protected
- Witch hazel rarely has problems with pests or diseases.
- It needs 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.
In late fall or very early spring, witch hazel’s crinkled yellow or copper-red blooms burst forth and brighten the winter snow. The trick to growing beautiful witch hazel is to pick the right kind. From there, find a spot where it’ll look its best.