Witch hazels, Hamamelis, are popular plants for the winter garden. Forming large shrubs or small trees, they come into their own in late winter and early spring, when scented, flame-coloured, ribbon-like flowers appear on bare branches. Some cultivars also have good autumn leaf colour, and their stems are lovely to bring indoors for a cut flower display. Although they have a reputation for being tricky to grow, if you get the soil conditions right, they can thrive.
Browse our practical guide to growing witch hazel, below.
Where to plant witch hazel
Witch hazels need good drainage. Choose a spot in full sun or partial shade and make sure the soil is well-drained. Although the advice is that witch hazels do best in a slightly acidic soil, they don’t need fully ericaceous compost and can cope with neutral soil, as long as you add plenty of organic matter.
How to plant witch hazels
Plant witch hazels as you would other shrubs:
Propagating witch hazels
Witch hazels are not easy to propagate, but if you want a challenge, the formal method is to take softwood cuttings in spring. Then, try to root them in free draining compost in a heated propagator.
Hamamelis: problem solving
Witch hazels are reliably pest and disease-free.
Looking after witch hazels
Witch hazels are quite easy to care for once established. They need watering during dry spells, and a sprinkling of fertiliser or a mulch of well-rotted compost or manure each spring. Unless you want to restrict the size or improve the shape of your shrub, witch hazels don’t need pruning other than removing crossing or diseased branches in early spring. Remove suckering shoots from the rootstock of grafted plants.
Witch hazel varieties to try
- Hamamelis mollis ‘Goldcrest’ – this Chinese Witch hazel has large, sweetly scented, golden yellow flowers, tinged with maroon
- Hamamelis x intermedia – a cross between Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) and Japanese witch hazel (Hamamelis japonica), Hamamelis ‘Savill Starlight’ has yellow flowers in late winter, and good autumn leaf colour
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Westerstede’ – the flowers are yellow and slightly scented and the oval green leaves fade to yellow in autumn
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ – with bright golden flowers that curl up a little more than other varieties
- Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ – a popular choice, this is a red-flowering cultivar. It also has good fiery autumn leaf colour. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it the prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM)
- Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Strawberries and Cream’ – this has flowers with yellow tips which deepen to a pinky-red towards the base
- Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Aphrodite’ – with orange-red, sweetly-scented flowers and red autumn leaf colour
- Hamamelis mollis ‘Brevipetala’ – the deep yellow flowers, which become red at the base are preceded by yellow-orange autumn leaves