How to Plant and Grow Witch Hazel

The flowers of this shrub may be small, but they make up for it in quantity and fragrance.

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. The golden-yellow flowers of witch hazel (Hamamelis spp.) release a spicy scent when they bloom in the fall and winter.

Although they are small, witch hazel blossoms are worth planting the shrub. Depending on the species, witch hazel blooms at odd times, usually when few other flowers are out. The blooms are generally not much bigger than a penny, composed of ribbonlike petals in a variety of colors, including orange, yellow, red, pink, and purple. What these little flowers lack in size, they make up for in quantity and timing.

witch hazel bush
Adam Albright.

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 Overview

Genus Name Hamamelis
Common Name Witch Hazel
Plant Type Shrub
Light Part Sun, Sun
Height 8 to 20 feet
Width 3 to 12 feet
Flower Color Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, Yellow
Foliage Color Blue/Green, Chartreuse/Gold
Season Features Colorful Fall Foliage, Fall Bloom, Spring Bloom, Winter Bloom
Special Features Fragrance, Low Maintenance
Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Propagation Seed

Where to Plant Witch Hazel

Plant witch hazel in full sun in most areas or filtered sun in the hottest areas. The plant needs well-draining, moist soil. It prefers slightly acidic, loamy soil but tolerates other growing conditions. When planting more than one witch hazel, space them 12-15 feet apart. The shrubs are useful as backdrop plants, screens, hedges, and specimen trees.

How and When to Plant Witch Hazel

Plant witch hazel plants in early spring or late fall. They are available as nursery-grown plants and as bare-root plants. For nursery-grown plants, dig a hole twice as wide and a little deeper than the nursery container the shrub comes in. Use a shovel to loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole. Amend the soil with compost or organic matter and set the witch hazel in the hole at the same height as it was in the container. Backfill the hole, pressing down on the soil to prevent air bubbles. Water the plant and spread 2-3 inches of mulch over the root zone.

If the witch hazel is a bare root plant, gently untangle the roots and soak it in water for four to six hours before planting. Dig a hole about 18 inches wide and as deep as the root system of the witch hazel. Amend the soil as needed and build a small mound of soil at the bottom of the hole. Spread the roots over the mound, adjusting the height so the bare-root plant sits at the previous soil level. Its topmost roots should be just barely under the soil level. Hold the plant with one hand while backfilling the hole with the other. Press the soil to remove air bubbles, water it, and apply 2-3 inches of mulch to retain moisture.

Witch hazel can also be planted from seeds, but gardeners need to be patient; witch hazel seeds can take up to two years to germinate. They need to first go through a warm season and a cold season. Sowing the seed outdoors and waiting a year covers both requirements, as long as the temperature drops below 45°F. Sow the seeds in moist soil and cover them lightly in an area that will remain undisturbed for the time it takes for them to germinate. Gardeners can mimic this process by putting the seeds in an 80°F-85°F location for about three months and then in the refrigerator for another three months. Then, the seeds are returned to the warm location and put in well-draining containers filled with seed-starter mix and barely covered or moved outside to a prepared nursery bed.

Witch Hazel Care Tips

Witch hazel is easy to grow in a variety of conditions.


In the wild, witch hazel grows as an understory plant beneath larger trees. While it tolerates these conditions, plant it in full sun for the most stunning display of winter flowers. Witch hazel can grow fine in part shade, but expect fewer blossoms and more muted fall colors.

Soil and Water

Witch hazel is mildly picky about soil, preferring slightly acidic, loamy soil. It can be temperamental in clay soil, so amend it with compost or organic matter before planting. Although it's important that witch hazel doesn't get too wet, make sure it doesn't dry out during the summer heat.

Temperature and Humidity

Witch hazel shrubs need a climate where the temperature falls below 45°F to bloom, so they aren't suitable for regions with warm winters. It grows best in average humidity.


Once a year, in late fall after the leaf drop, apply a balanced granular fertilizer, such as 20-20-20 or 20-30-20, to the soil around the shrub and work it into the soil, following the product instructions for the correct amount. Gardeners who prefer using stake-type fertilizer should choose one with the 20-20-20 or 20-30-20 ratio and follow the directions on the package,

Organic fertilizers, such as well-rotted manure, can be applied to witch hazel at the rate of 1 bushel per mature shrub.


Prune witch hazel in spring before it leafs out. It doesn't require much pruning except to remove any dead branches and maintain the plant's shape. Suckers that come up from the base of the plant should also be removed.

Potting and Repotting

Witch hazel can be planted in a container and remain in one for several years because it is a slow grower, but eventually, it needs to go into the soil. The container should be situated in a sunny area outside and remain there year-round. The container should have several drainage holes and container feet to make sure the holes are not blocked. A 16-inch container filled with potting soil or garden soil enriched with compost or organic matter is a good choice. Repot to a 2-inch larger container when it outgrows its pot or threatens to topple over in the wind.

Pests and Problems

The witch hazel leaf gall aphids attack the shrub's buds. Insecticidal soap helps when used in time, but it is easy to miss the early evidence of an infestation. The eastern tent caterpillar is much easier to see, as are the chewed-up leaves on the shrub. Pick off the caterpillars and drop them into soapy water as soon you see them.

Deer and rabbits find witch hazel tasty, but the damage is usually minimal. When grown in overly wet soil, the shrub may develop a fungal disease such as powdery mildew.

How to Propagate Witch Hazel

Species witch hazel shrubs are usually propagated by seeds. The seeds form in capsules that ripen in mid to late fall, almost a year after flowering. Collect the capsules before they turn brown and eject their seeds. (Watch for one capsule to eject seeds to indicate the correct timing.) Soak the seeds in water and sow them outdoors in a prepared seed bed, where they will undergo the necessary warm and cold periods required for germination. Lightly cover them with soil and water the bed. Mark the bed clearly and leave it undisturbed until germination occurs, which can take up to two years.

New Innovations

Some of the most recent introductions of witch hazel are the result of a cross between Japanese witch hazel and Chinese witch hazel, often categorized as Hamamelis 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.

Types of Witch Hazel

'Arnold's Promise' Witch Hazel

Arnold's Promise witch hazel
Dency Kane

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold's Promise' shows off yellow fall foliage and large yellow flowers in mid to late winter. It grows 12 feet tall and wide. Plant in zones 5-8.

Chinese Witch Hazel

Chinese witch hazel
Denny Schrock

Hamamelis mollis has some of the most fragrant flowers of all the species. It reaches up to 20 feet and grows in zones 5-8.

Common Witch Hazel

Common witch hazel
Marty Baldwin

Hamamelis virginiana is a North American native offering yellow flowers in autumn and brilliant golden fall foliage. It grows 12 feet tall and wide. Plant in zones 3-8.

'Jelena' Witch Hazel

Jelena Witch Hazel
Stephen Cridland

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena' offers lovely orange-red flowers in early winter. In autumn, the foliage turns shades of orange and red. It grows 12 feet tall and wide. Plant in zones 5-8.

'Sandra' Witch Hazel

Sandra witch hazel
Dency Kane

Hamamelis vernalis 'Sandra' offers golden-yellow flowers in late winter or early spring and yellow autumn foliage. It grows 10 feet tall and wide. Plant in zones 4-8.

Garden Plans for Witch Hazel

Property Line Garden Plan

Situate the gently curving garden laid out in this plan along the edge of your yard to create a cozy feeling of enclosure, or if you already have a fence or wall, plant it in front of the structure to soften the look.

Beginner-Friendly Shade Garden

This perennial shade garden plan weaves together a handful of low-maintenance, easy-to-grow plants to create a beautiful display that's practically foolproof. A witch hazel shrub serves as a focal point, especially when it begins blooming in late winter before its leaves appear.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take for witch hazel to mature and produce flowers?

    Common witch hazel doesn't flower until the plants are at least six years old.

  • How long do witch hazel shrubs bloom?

    Witch hazel shrubs bloom continually for up to eight weeks.

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