Witch Hazel

Question: I’m looking for a plant that will perk up my dreary winter landscape. A friend of mine suggested witch hazels. Can you tell me more about them?
-Charlottesville, VA

Answer: Witch hazels are deciduous, winter-flowering shrubs or small trees. Two native species, the common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) and the vernal witch hazel (H. vernalis), bloom in the fall and midwinter respectively, while the Asian species, the Chinese H. mollis and the Japanese H. japonica, bloom in late winter and early spring. The spiderlike flowers with their four straplike petals look like strands of confetti that have exploded from the bud. They are pollinated by winter-flying moths. Colors vary from clear yellow to orange and maroon.

Among the best choices for the garden are the hybrids between the Asian species (H.Xintermedia). These produce the showiest flowers and become multistemmed shrubs ranging from 6 to 15 feet high. Among the two dozen cultivars, some of the best are the late-blooming, yellow ‘Arnold Promise’; ‘Jelena’, with its orange-red autumn foliage and copper-colored blossoms; the primrose-yellow-lowered ‘Primavera’; and ‘Ruby Glow’, with coppery red flowers that mature to reddish brown. Depending on the species, witch hazels are hardy from USDA Zones 3 to 8, and are best sited in a moist, well-drained location in full sun to partial shade.

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