Witch Hazel
photo by: Derek Fell
Give your landscape a welcome shot of color in midwinter by planting witch hazel (hamamelis). This group of large shrubs produces spiderlike blossoms of narrow, delicate petals that open along the bare branches of the plant. Colors range from yellow to red with the leaves turning shades of yellow, orange and red in autumn. Vernal witch hazel (H. vernalis) is a slow-growing shrub, reaching 10 to 15 feet in height; its small, fragrant yellow flowers are the first to open, from January through March. Plants are hardy to about -20°F. Blooming February through March, Chinese witch hazel (H. mollis) also has richly fragrant yellow flowers and reaches heights of 10 to 15 feet; it can also grow to 15 feet wide. Hardy to about -20°F, its flower buds can be damaged in the range of -10° to -15°F. Also look for showy H. intermedia hybrids. They bloom from late January to March, depending on variety and location (earlier in the south, later in the north). Fragrant flowers in shades of red, copper and yellow last for as long as one month. These shrubs typically grow upright 15 to 20 feet high and wide, and are hardy to -20°F. Select named varieties, such as the widely recommended 'Arnold Promise,' with 1 1/2 inch canary-yellow flowers, and 'Diana,' with bright coppery-red flowers (shown above). Plant witch hazel this spring or wait until next fall. Grow plants in sun or partial shade and in neutral to slightly acid soil rich in organic matter. Established plants require little upkeep.
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