Shrubs

Witch Hazel Plant Guide: How to Grow & Care for “Hamamelis”

Read our guide to Witch Hazel Plants for everything you’ll ever need to know! Tips for planting & caring for “Hamamelis”

Do you feel like your garden or home would look cosier during the cold months if you add more attractive flowers? The good news is you can easily add a dash of colour to your surroundings with the stunning Hamamelis a.k.a. Witch hazel. Keep reading to find out more about these fall-through-spring bloomers!

Hamamelis is a small genus that consists of exactly five species of flowering shrubs in the Hamamelidaceae family. While the H. ovalis, H. virginiana, and H. vernalis species are native to regions of North America, H. Japonica originates from Japan and H. mollis from China. Depending on the species, these plants go by several common names including Witch hazel, Winterbloom, Ozark Witch Hazel, Japanese Witch Hazel, or Chinese Witch Hazel.

Witch hazels do not only come with everlasting beauty, but with a hardy, low-demanding, and pest-free nature as well. Basically, the only way to damage these shrubs is to give them more attention than they actually need. They can grow in a wide range of environmental conditions but thrive in those that are similar to the ones from their natural habitat.

About Witch Hazel

  • Witch hazels come with plenty of varieties and hybrids to choose from. The most eye-catching cultivars are ‘Goldencrest’, ‘Kohankie Red’, ‘Aphrodite’, ‘Arnold Promise’, ‘Aurora’, ‘Diane’, ‘Jelena’, ‘Strawberries and Cream’, ‘Primavera’, and ‘Brevipetala’.
  • There are also many hybrids that you can choose from such as H. × intermedia ‘Advent’, ‘Angelly’, ‘Anne’, ‘Aphrodite’, ‘Arnold Promise’, ‘Aurora’, ‘Barmstedt Gold’, ‘Diane’, ‘Frederic’, ‘Gingerbread’, ‘Harry’, ‘Jelena’, ‘Pallida’, ‘Robert’, ‘Rubin’, and ‘Vesna’, have gained the prestigious Award of Garden Merit. And H. mollis ‘Jermyns Gold’ with ‘Wisely Supreme’ too!
  • Virginiana Witch Hazel has played a big part in herbalism, traditional medicine, and skincare decoctions for centuries. Native Americans used its bark and leaves as a treatment for psoriasis, eczema, insect bites, wounds, sore muscles, inflammations, eye problems, or others.
  • Witch hazels are important ingredients in various skin creams, proprietary eye drops, skin tonics, and ointments. Some people also use the leaves and twigs of these plants to prepare a refreshing herbal tea. However, long-term use is not recommended.
  • These shrubs will look absolutely spectacular in different outdoor landscape decorations, such as woodland gardens, beds, borders, slopes, banks, hedges, or screens. They can also look cute in containers, but only while they are younger.
  • Witch hazels can make for good-looking companions to other gorgeous species of plants. Some of these are Holly Bush, Andromeda, Mondo Grass, Hellebore, Ivy-Leaved Cyclamen, Lungwort, Mapleleaf Viburnum, Mountain Laurel, Azalea, Solomon’s Seal, Snow Crocus, Snowdrop, Winter Aconite, or Winter Heath.
  • They contain isopropyl alcohol and cancer-causing chemicals known as safrole that can be pretty damaging to humans and animals if ingested in high quantities. For safety purposes, grow Witch hazels where your kids or pets cannot reach them.
Witch Hazel in Bloom
Witch Hazel in Bloom

Witch Hazel Features: An Overview

  • Witch hazels are hardy and deciduous perennial shrubs or small trees. Depending on the cultivar, they can reach from 10 to 40 feet (3-12 m) in height and 10 to 20 feet (3-6 m) in width.
  • Their foliage contains lots of oval, 2 to 6 inches (5-15 cm) long, and 1 to 4 (2.5-10 cm) broad leaves that grow alternately arranged on long, upright or spreading, thick, woody, and greyish-brown stems.
  • The leaves of Witch hazels have smooth or wavy edges and come in many tints of green or purple in spring through summer, turning red, orange, or golden in autumn.
  • The blooming period of Witch hazels varies from one specimen to another. These shrubs can produce blossoms in either fall, late winter, or early spring. Each bloom shows up with 4 ribbon-like, crinkled, and strap-shaped petals.
  • Their flowers have a generous colour palette. They can exhibit different shades of yellow, golden, orange, red, pink, purple, and attractive mixes of these colours.

Growing Witch Hazel

The ideal lighting conditions for Witch hazels to grow healthy and happy are usually full to partial sunlight. These plants prefer at least 4 to 6 hours of bright and direct light daily. However, they can also tolerate some partial shade once in a while. In fact, partially shaded locations are very beneficial for your witch hazels especially if you live in a region with harsh summer months.

What makes witch hazels one of the most friendly ornamentals out there is their ability to withstand a wide range of temperatures. In general, these shrubs are hardy in the USDA zones 3 through 9. They are growing just fine in both hot and cold temperatures, so you will not have to worry about the general weather in your area.

In terms of humidity, witch hazels do well in moderate levels overall. If you are growing these buddies in dry conditions, they will surely not hesitate to show their dissatisfaction through scorched leaves. Too much moisture, on the other hand, will make your plants more susceptible to fungal diseases like powdery mildew.

This kind of disease shows its presence through a white, powdery substance that looks very much like talcum powder. If you notice this on your Witch hazels, make sure you remove all the infected parts to prevent any future spread. For severe cases, you must also apply horticultural oil weekly until the shrubs are healthy again.

(100) Witch Hazel Seeds, From Amazon

Planting Witch Hazel

When it comes to their growing medium, Witch hazels typically perform best in loamy soils that are rich in organic matter and nutrients. Even if these shrubs can withstand all types of soil pH, we recommend you plant them in an acidic to a neutral substrate for nice results. Witch hazels are big lovers of moisture, but too much of it can result in root rot. You can easily prevent this from happening by planting your shrubs in soil that also comes with excellent drainage.

If you want to give your witch hazels the time of their life, do not forget to add some compost to their growing medium before planting. This process will improve drainage, moisture retention, and will also provide your shrubs with the needed nutrients. Since these plants are the happiest when they receive lots of nutrients, it would be wise to feed them with a balanced liquid fertilizer once every month during the summer.

Although regular pruning is not mandatory, your witch hazels will benefit from some grooming every now and then. Especially when they are taller and older! If you dream of that clean and tidy overall look, you must trim off their unhealthy foliage and suckering offshoots. Keep in mind that the perfect time to prune your shrubby friends is usually once their blooming period has ended.

As long as witch hazels are still young and small, you can grow them in pots to enjoy them in your cosy home. Still, these shrubs tend to grow at a pretty fast pace, so they will outgrow their pots in a short time. When your plants seem overcrowded, we suggest you transplant them in new containers that are a bit larger than the current ones. Make sure you repot them in spring and be careful not to disturb their fragile roots.

Watering Witch Hazel

Yes, witch hazels love moisture and grow at their best if you water them regularly. Young specimens need lots of water to settle in their new home properly. Yet, these shrubbies do not enjoy soggy soil or waterlogging. Over-watering your plants will cause them to root rot, so you must use a certain, but simple watering technique.

Make sure you water your witch hazels only when the top half of the soil feels dry to the touch. If you live in a zone with regular rainfalls, established plants will do just fine without your extra help. During the hot and dry weather, however, you will have to intervene, but responsibly.

Hazel Witch shrub
Hazel Witch shrub

Propagating Witch Hazel

Having at least one witch hazel around will completely improve the aspect of your garden. But having more of them is even better, so you might be wondering how to propagate them. The best thing about propagating witch hazel is that you will have more plants around, but you can also surprise your loved ones with a special gift. So, without further ado, the first thing that you need to know is that witch hazels respond best to seed propagation.

Although this method is very simple, you will need to have a lot of patience. Witch hazel seeds usually germinate after up to two years from sowing. The seeds must experience the cold and heat of both winter and summer. If you want to start the seeds outdoors, all you have to do is collect them, sow them, and allow Mother Nature to do its job.

In indoor settings, the steps are somewhat different. First, you will have to harvest the seeds from your witch hazels. Then, you’ll have to plant the seeds in a pot filled with fresh moist soil and cover them a bit with the substrate.

Place the container in a warm spot and provide the seeds with a temperature of 85 °F (29 °C) for two to three months. Once this period has passed, move the pot in the refrigerator for three months and maintain its soil damp. After this, bring the pot to the warmer area again. With proper care, germination should occur in another 2-3 months. If you want to transplant the seedlings outdoors, you must first acclimate them slowly to sunlight.

In Conclusion

Witch hazels are one of the most hypnotic and easy-going flowering shrubs you can have around. With so many options to choose from, we cannot stop but think about how much time you will need to decide which one will be your next lifetime companion. But, irresistible as they are, we are sure that you will find one that will win your heart!

Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

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