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When you hear the name witch hazel, you may think of skin care products. But this large shrub or small tree (depending on whom you ask) should be on every gardener’s wish list. With ribbon-like flowers and golden-yellow color, witch hazel releases a spicy scent when it blooms in the fall.
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Part Sun, Sun
8 to 20 feet
From 3 to 12 feet
Although they are small, witch hazel blossoms are worth planting the shrub. Depending on the species, witch hazel blooms at odd times, usually when nothing else is blossoming. The flowers are generally not much bigger than a penny, composed of ribbon-like petals in a variety of colors such as orange, yellow, red, pink, and purple. What these little flowers lack in size, they make up for in quantity and timing.
One of the U.S. native species, vernal witch hazel, blooms in late winter to early spring before other plants begin leafing out. Bare stems covered in colorful ribbons are stunning, and they are also fragrant. An even more fragrant species is Chinese witch hazel, which blooms even earlier in mid- to late winter. A single shrub of Chinese witch hazel can easily perfume an entire yard. The other U.S. native is common witch hazel (H. virginiana), which blooms in late fall.
Witch Hazel Care Must-Knows
Witch hazel is easy to grow in a variety of conditions. It is mildly picky about soil, preferring a slightly acidic loamy soil and a little temperamental in clay soil. Though it's important witch hazel doesn't get too wet, make sure it doesn't dry out during the heat of summer; otherwise it will suffer from leaf scorch. If you have heavier soil, try amending it with plenty of organic matter before planting.
In the wild, you can see witch hazel growing as an understory plant beneath larger trees. While it is tolerant of these conditions, be sure to plant in full sun for a garden-worthy shrub. This will provide the most stunning display of winter flowers. Witch hazel can grow fine in part shade, but expect fewer blossoms and more muted fall colors.
Some of the most recent introductions of witch hazel are the result of a cross between Japanese witch hazel and Chinese witch hazel, often seen as H. x intermedia. These hybrids bloom in mid- to late winter and come in a surprising array of colors. Many retain the lovely fragrance of their Chinese parentage.