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How to Grow Hamamelis — Witch Hazel

Witch hazel Hamamelis intermedia

Hamamelis–commonly called Witch hazel–is a deciduous shrub or tree commonly grown for its autumn color, cold-resistant, fragrant, spider-shaped flowers. The yellow flowers have strap-shaped petals.

Hamamelis are very good specimen plants. They are effective alone or in groups or can be planted in a shrub border or woodland garden.

Hamamelis is a genus of 5 species of deciduous shrubs occurring in woodland or woodland margins. Hamamelis is native to North America and East Asia.

The sunlit flowers of Hamamelis mollis
The sunlit flowers of Hamamelis mollis

Get to Know Hamamelis

  • Plant type: Deciduous late winter- or early spring-blooming shrub
  • Growing Zones and range: 5-9
  • Hardiness: Hardy
  • Height and width: 6 to 15 feet (2-5m) tall and wide depending on the variety
  • Form and habit: Tree-like with spreading habit 
  • Foliage: Broad ovate leaves add color to the landscape in autumn
  • Flowers: Fragrant star-shaped yellow flowers in winter; flowers are .75-1.25 inch (2-3cm) across, with 4 narrow petals, are borne in dense, axillary clusters
  • Bloom time: Autumn and winter
  • Uses: Specimen plant, shrub border, woodland plantings
  • Garden companions: Flase cypresses (Chamaecyparis), pyramidal American arborvitae (Thuja Occidentalis ‘Pyramidalis’) 
  • Common name: Witch Hazel
  • Botanical name: Hamamelis spp.
  • Family: Hamamelidaceae
  • Origin: North America an East Asia

Where to Plant Hamamelis

  • Plant Hamamelis in full sun for best flowering; witch hazel tolerates light shade.
  • Grow Hamamelis in humus-rich, well-drained, acidic soil.
  • Plant Hamamelis in an open but not exposed site.  
Witch hazel bush, Hamamelis intermedia
Witch hazel bush, Hamamelis intermedia

When to Plant Hamamelis

  • Set Hamamelis in the garden in spring or fall.
  • Sow seed in containers in a cold frame as soon as ripe. 

Planting and Spacing Hamamelis

  • Space Hamamelis 8 to 30 feet apart depending on the variety.

How to Water and Feed Hamamelis

  • Hamamelis need ample moisture; keep the soil evenly moist.
  • Hamamelis does not need fertilizer.

Hamamelis Care

  • Mulch around Hamamelis to conserve soil moisture.
  • Train Hamamelis to a single stem by removing low-growing branches.
  • Hamamelis needs little pruning; if pruned, selectively cut out the oldest and weakest stems to just above the ground.
  • Remove all Hamamelis suckers to keep the plant contained and neat.
  • There is no need to deadhead Hamamelis.
  • Do not shear Hamamelis which destroys the plant’s natural shape.
  • Hamamelis has no serious pests or diseases.

Hamamelis Pests and Diseases

  • Hamamelis are susceptible to attacks by gall aphids, leaf roller, and scale insects. 
  • Powdery mildew, leaf spots, and wood rot can also be a problem. 

Hamamelis Propagation

  • Plant Hamamelis seed in pots or cold frames when ripe. 
  • Hamamelis seeds require warm and then cold stratification to germinate. 
  • Layer Hamamelis in late summer. Graft in spring.
  • Hamamelis seed can take up to two years to germinate.
 Hamamelis * intermedia
Hamamelis * intermedia

Hamamelis Varieties to Grow

  • Hamamelis intermedia, group of hybrids between H. mollis and H. japonica. Big shrubs (to 15 feet—5m—high), blooming from late January in warmest part of range to mid-March in coldest areas. Often grafted; remove any growth originating from below graft. Zones 5 to 9.  
  • H. japonica, Japanese witch hazel, upright, open-branched shrub with broadly oval to obovate, glossy mid-green leaves, to 4 inches (10cm) long, which turn yellow in autumn. Yellow flowers, with crimped petals, are produced on bare branches in mid- and late winter. To 12 feet (4m) tall and wide.  
  • H. mollis, Chinese witch hazel, erect shrub with broadly ovate to obovate, softly hairy, mid-green leaves, to 6 inches (15cm) long, turning yellow in autumn. Very fragrant, golden yellow flowers are borne on bare branches in mid- and late winter. To 12 feet (4m) tall and wide. West and west central China. Zones 5 to 9. 
  • H. vernalis, Vernal witch hazel, erect shrub with obovate, mid-green leaves, to 5 inches (13cm) long, turning yellow in autumn. Bears small, yellow to orange, sometimes red-tinged flowers on bare shoots in late winter and early spring. Zones 4 to 8. Vernal witch hazel is a native shrub that like wet soil and is fragrant in Zones 5-7.
  • H. virginiana, Common witch hazel, erect shrub with broadly oval, obovate, or nearly rounded leaves, to 6 inches (15cm) long, turning yellow in autumn. Small yellow flowers are borne in autumn, before leaves begin to fall. To 12 feet (4m) tall and wide. Eastern North America. Zones 3 to 8. Hamamelis virginiana and Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) are fragrant in Zones 5-9.

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