Gardeners dream of beautiful and bountiful blooms long before spring arrives. Sometimes, it remains a dream, but with the right plants, those dreams become a reality. Such is the plant witch hazel, blossoming with delicate, frilly blooms before spring arrives. Many use it as an indicator that spring is right around the corner. There are a number of cultivars of this favorite shrub, often referred to as a tree as it grows so large. Witch hazel astringent comes from the bark of these specimens. Learn how to grow witch hazel and which variety is best suited to your landscape to enjoy these beautiful winter blooms.
Before Planting Witch Hazel
Different cultivars of the witch hazel (Hamamelis) shrub grow best in various locations geographically and in the landscape. Witch hazel appreciates full sun when it begins blooming in late winter, but the same total sun location might create sunburn and distress by July. When scouting locations for your new Witch Hazel, try to plant in a spot where deciduous trees will provide afternoon shade by summertime. Native varieties are often hardiest and hold up best for the long-term in more rugged conditions (like full afternoon sun). When learning how to grow witch hazel, allow room for it to spread to 20 feet and grow the same in height.
There are many hybrids and crosses of witch hazel, but they derive from the four primary Hamamelis species. The size reached by the shrub, colors of flowers, and fall foliage are the main differences. Flowers are red or various shades of yellow on different varieties. During mild winters, flowers on these shrubs may bloom earlier. All offer spectacular autumn color.
Hamamelis japonica (Japanese Witch Hazel)
This cultivar reaches 15 feet in height and width at maturity. Growing in USDA Hardiness Zone 5-8, this is one of the hardiest of the species. Flowers may be red or yellow and bloom from January to March.
Chinese witch hazel is bred to be most fragrant. Flowers are soft yellow, as is autumn foliage. Expect blooms on this one from January to March.
Ozark witch hazel blooms January to April. Native to Missouri and Arkansas this shrub grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8.
American witch hazel, native to forests of the Eastern U.S. as far north as Canada. Hardy in Zones: 3-8, you’ll want this variety in more northern areas. This showy shrub blooms October to December.
Preparing the Beds
Acidic or alkaline soils don’t seem to make much difference to this amenable grower. It does like soil amended with compost that provides excellent drainage. Clear and till the area deep enough to set the root ball of the shrub into a hole twice as wide as the bottom of the plant. Save the soil you dig out on a tarp. The top of the soil of the plant should be level with the ground. Mix the soil with compost, if desired. This is what you’ll use to fill the hole. When learning how to grow witch hazel and buying your first specimen, you will likely get one that is balled and burlapped.
Planting Witch Hazel
When learning to grow witch hazel, you’ll find planting it is similar to planting other shrubs.
- Remove the wire basket if there is one around the root ball.
- Cut off as much of the burlap as you can get to comfortably.
- Locate the shrub into the hole, making sure it is straight.
- Use the soil you’ve dug up (backfill) to fill the hole equally around the shrub.
- Water in.
Pests and Possible Diseases
Witch hazel shrubs have no significant problems with insects and are usually not susceptible to disease. The saddled prominent caterpillar may eat the leaves. The Witch-Hazel leaf gall aphid causes galls but is normally controlled with horticultural soaps or oils, according to the Forest Service. No diseases are prevalent.
Learning how to grow witch hazel is the perfect opportunity to use its bark to make medicinal teas or poultices. First used by American Indians, witch hazel is a primary ingredient in many medicinal concoctions.
Adding fragrance and beauty to the landscape are excellent reasons to learn how to grow witch hazel shrub. Choose the appropriate cultivar for your yard today and get planting.
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