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Witchhazel: The Gardener’s Missing (Winter) Link

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While most plants are hibernating for the winter, witchhazels delight the senses with a tantalizing array of delicate, often fragrant flowers. A wonderful winter accent, this small- to medium-sized shrub complements other plantings in the landscape. Depending on the species and the named variety, witchhazels bloom from late fall through early spring. To cope with blustery weather, their flower petals curl up and then reopen on warmer, sunny days. The flowers, which have thread-like petals somewhat akin to bee balm, vary in color from tinges of yellow to red to orange.

The leaves resemble hazelnut and the fruit provide further winter interest. They are upright, loosely branched shrubs or small trees and need room to branch out — 10-15 feet in height and width. Pruning is not necessary except for infrequent shaping.

If you prefer natives, Hamamelis virginiana, which blooms in the fall, and Hamamelis vernalis, which blooms in late winter, are available. Hybrid cultivars such as ‘Arnold Promise’, ‘Ruby Glow’ and ‘Primavera’ are best for consistent flowering, scent and fall color.



The edge of a natural area or a mixed shrub border with improved soil, good drainage and occasional irrigation is ideal for these plants. They look most attractive when used to heighten areas of a garden that already are inviting. They’re perfect for established landscapes, especially historic homes and gardens.

The witchhazels in the JC Raulston Arboretum Winter Garden and in other areas of the east JCRA will surprise you with their incredible ornamental displays at the most unexpected times. You can see a dazzling cultivar array of native species, study cultivars from the Chinese species, H. mollis, and even smile at the weeping form, ‘Lombart’s Weeping’. Search the JCRA accessions database at for a complete listing by clicking on “Horticulture” then “Current Plantings.”

John MacNair