Photo: Kathy Bragg (flickr)
Witch hazel is one of those shrubs that provides gardeners with an opportunity to snip off some branches in late winter and force them into flower in a vase of water inside the house. Flowering quince and forsythia are better known for forcing but witch hazel is great too.
The hybrid witch hazel Hamamelis x intermedia grows 12 feet high and 12 feet wide, and it can be pruned to a smaller size as long as it is done right after blooming to avoid sacrificing next year’s buds. It is hardy zones 5 to 8, is heat tolerant and likes full sun to part shade. It prefers acid, moist, well-drained soil so needs attention in dry summer weather.
In late winter or earliest spring it produces wonderfully fragrant flowers that hang from the bare branches. The petals on the small flowers are twisted-looking. In the fall the leaves of this shrub are colorful too, so it provides interest in more than one season.
After planting it grows slowly at first and may only grow a foot in a year. Later as it matures, it should be thinned out after it blooms to provide a more open shape so that the little flowers are more visible the next year.
Just a few varieties are available in catalogs and garden centers: ‘Diana’ has dark red flowers, ‘Jelena’ has light orange blooms, and ‘Arnold’s Promise’ has especially fragrant yellow flowers.
Whatever the color of the blossoms, witch hazel’s early fragrant flowers are always a welcome sight to winter-weary eyes.