There are only five species of witch hazel, better known as witch hazel. This shrub is a small deciduous tree or shrub. These can reach heights of growth between two and four meters. The witch hazel is a very slow growing tree. Because of its mostly sparse, tightly upright growth, which closes downwards, it can be planted very well with evergreen groundcover or small perennials. Here, however, you should make sure that these groundcovers are not competitive plants.
Table of Contents
Appearance and Flowers
Most types of witch hazel flower in winter, with the exception of the Virginian witch hazel, which flowers in autumn. As a rule, the capitate, lateral inflorescences, each with three to four flowers, appear before the leaves sprout. The sprawling, widely branched shrubs bloom very luxuriantly. The mostly pleasant scent of the flowers of some varieties can still be perceived over a relatively wide area. The different shades of color of the filigree, thread-like flowers are particularly effective in front of evergreen trees such as yew or cherry laurel.
The Asian species of witch hazel have particularly large flowers, which appear as early as late December or early January and bloom for a relatively long time, lasting until the end of March. This is considerably longer than most other species. Due to a long and intensive cultivation, there are now very beautiful flower colors and also bright autumn colors of the leaves in golden yellow or crimson.
fruits and seeds
The fruits of the witch hazel are so-called capsule fruits, which usually ripen with the blossom. There are two black seeds in each of these capsules. As soon as the capsules open explosively, these are thrown up to 10 m out of the capsules.
- Corresponding plants are available in the garden specialist market.
- These can be planted in the garden after purchase.
- Both container plants and bare-root shrubs can be planted in fall and spring.
- Bare-rooted shrubs should be placed in a container of water before planting.
- This allows the roots to soak up water and loosen up.
- Then you dig a suitably large planting hole, about 80 x 80 cm.
- The planting hole should be twice as deep and wide as the root ball
- This applies to bare-rooted plants as well as to container plants.
- It is advisable to enrich the excavation with compost.
- Then put the excavation in the planting hole and step or press down.
- Then water the whole thing well.
The witch hazel prefers sunny, sheltered locations but also locations in light shade. Even a semi-shady place would impair growth and flowering.
The soil should be as lime-free as possible, rich in nutrients, humic, fresh and moderately moist. A pH value above 7 is not tolerated. In such cases, a soil replacement in the size of the planting pit is recommended, i.e. 80 x 80 cm.
Shrubs should be avoided if possible. The witch hazel reacts very sensitively to this and then only grows with great difficulty in another location.
Fertilization is particularly necessary on sandy soils. This should be done in spring. An existing layer of mulch must first be removed. For fertilization, mature compost, mixed with horn shavings, is then applied to the root area about a finger-thick and worked in.
It should also be fertilized if the leaves remain on the plant for a particularly long time and do not fall off by themselves before flowering. You can counteract this with a potash fertilizer in late summer. The whole thing should then be repeated after two years.
Prolonged drought hampers both growth and flowering of this plant. For this reason, it should be watered moderately, especially in summer. If there is no flowering in winter, it may be because the witch hazel has been too dry.
If possible, only rainwater should be used for watering, since witch hazel on lime, which sometimes occurs in high concentrations in tap water, is not tolerated by the plant and may damage it.
The most promising is propagation by grafting on an appropriate base. However, this method requires certain knowledge and should be left to the professionals. Furthermore, propagation is possible via seeds as well as cuttings and sinkers, but not necessarily recommended. In any case, all this requires a great deal of patience.
Propagation via seeds
Sowing is relatively difficult and time-consuming, so it is not always worthwhile and actually not necessarily recommended. If you want to venture out, you can harvest the seeds in autumn. This should be done before they are fully ripe, because once the capsules have burst open, the seeds are gone. The seeds of the witch hazel show a development delay, a so-called dormancy. Therefore, for germination, they must be stratified, ie subjected to a cold treatment. In contrast to other cold germs, the seeds have to go through two consecutive cold-warm-cold phases.
Part 1 of stratification
First, immediately after harvesting, the seeds are placed in a humus-rich and moist substrate in an appropriate sowing container. The substrate can consist of seed soil or peat mixed with sand, for example.
The stratification should then take place at temperatures between 2 and 10 degrees. Depending on the weather, you can either sink the pot with the seeds outdoors in the ground or put the whole thing in the fridge.
In both cases, care must be taken that the substrate does not dry out. In the spring of next year, the pot is moved outside to a shady spot, where it remains until the following winter. It is important that the substrate never dries out during the whole time.
Part 2 of stratification
The second part of stratification consists of another cold treatment. For this purpose, the pot is left to freeze well in the second winter or it is kept in the refrigerator at temperatures between 2 and 8 degrees. The following spring, the pot and seeds are put back outside, where the actual germination takes place. Pricked out or isolated can then be pricked out after the first year.
Propagation by cuttings
Propagation via cuttings can take place both in February and in late summer. When propagating cuttings in February, the mother plants must be stimulated to sprout prematurely by means of appropriate temperatures and additional light.
The cuttings can then be cut from these premature shoots. These are planted in a heated greenhouse with relatively high humidity. Plants grown this way tend to stay smaller than others and tend to grow much slower too.
Propagation by sinkers
A few healthy and flexible shoots of the mother plant are used for lowering. These are freed from foliage in the middle area, bent to the ground and buried about 10-20 cm deep. The shoot tips of the countersinks should definitely protrude from the ground.
The shoots should then be fixed in the ground with a herring or a branch fork. If you scratch the part of the shoot that is in the ground beforehand, this can facilitate root formation. Patience is now required, because it can take some time for the sinkers to take root. Once sufficient roots have formed, the sinkers can be separated from the mother plant and planted separately.
The witch hazel in autumn and winter
What is impressive about the witch hazel is not only its fascinating flowers, but also the golden yellow to purple autumn color of the leaves, making it a special gem in the garden. The witch hazel, which looks a bit like the hazelnut, is one of the most attractive winter bloomers and is rightly called the “queen of winter bloomers”.
The witch hazel opens its fine, filigree, bright yellow or red flowers in the middle of winter, on the usually leafless plant. For several weeks, it then becomes a real eye-catcher and provides a few splashes of color, especially in the midst of a typically wintry environment. It is therefore advisable to plant them in a visible place, for example as a solitary plant, where you can see them clearly even in winter.
The entire plant is hardy, including the flowers. However, if the temperature is too frosty, the flowers may curl up or the flowering time may be delayed by several weeks. An appropriately protected location can counteract this if necessary. However, this plant usually does not need winter protection. Incidentally, the varieties ‘Arnold Promise’, ‘Primavera’ and ‘Westerstede’ are suitable for overwintering in tubs.
- With a pruning, the typical growth form of the witch hazel may be lost.
- This then only develops again over a period of many years.
- Therefore, a cut should be avoided if possible.
- This tree grows relatively slowly with a maximum annual increase of 20 cm.
- However, a blend of witch hazel is still possible.
- You should limit yourself to thinning out after flowering.
- Even dead branches can be removed or slight corrections can be made.
- But that is not absolutely necessary.
- Hard pruning is not recommended.
- Larger cuts would heal very poorly.
- The plant would only sprout very hesitantly from the old wood.
Particularly beautiful varieties
- ‘ Jelena ‘ – The large flowers of this attractive cultivar are a bright, intense red to coppery hue, fading to orange to orange-yellow towards the tips. It blooms from December to late March. Foliage turns orange to scarlet in fall.
- ‘ Pallida ‘ – The flowers are large, sulfur yellow and emit an intense fragrance. In milder locations, this witch hazel already opens its buds at Christmas time. The foliage of this richly flowering variety shines in a golden yellow autumn colour, which makes it particularly effective against evergreen plants.
- ‘ Diane ‘ – This strain produces large crimson red flowers. These are arranged in dense clusters. With a flowering time in February/March, it flowers relatively late. The autumn leaves impress with an intense yellow to scarlet colour.
- ‘ Primavera ‘ – The mid-late ‘Primavera’ is also a prolific flowering variety with a medium-strong fragrance. It is one of the most attractive yellow-flowering varieties, but only flowers in February/March. The crescent-shaped petals are reddish in color at their base. This type of witch hazel is also suitable for overwintering in a bucket.
- ‘ Hamamelis mollis ‘ – The flowers of this Chinese witch hazel are golden yellow, as is the fall color of the foliage. It flowers from January to March.
diseases and pests
Witch hazel is relatively resistant to both diseases and pests. However, the ‘Hamamelis mollis’ variety can become infested with powdery mildew in particularly wet summers. In such cases, a pruning is recommended. Otherwise, the trade also offers appropriate systemic means of combating it.
The witch hazel or witch hazel is one of the most beautiful winter-flowering shrubs. It is relatively robust and makes no special demands on care. Despite everything, one should pay attention to optimal location and environmental conditions and not transplant them if possible. It is better to do without a cut or just limit it to trimming or minor corrections. If you take all this to heart, you will surely enjoy this attractive winter bloomer for many years.