Growing and Forcing Witch Hazel

Hamamelis x ‘Feuerzauber’

Hamamelis x intermedia commonly known as Witch Hazel is one of the first shrubs to come into bloom in cold climates. We usually see our first flashes of color in February, (some nearby folks were reporting blossoms before this weekend’s arctic blast). Often you will realize they are in bloom as their fragrance fills the air. 

closeup

Witch Hazels set their flower buds during the previous year’s growing season.  Outdoors, once plants have experienced a 6-8 week cold spell followed by mild moist weather, the spidery flowers will begin to open. It is after this cold stretch that you can take  cuttings. If you have a nice big plant in your garden, why not sacrifice a few budded branches for indoor arrangements? Simply take your cuttings, splitting the stem base for better water intake, put the branches in a vase with warm water and wait a few days. 

Hamamelis x ‘Arnold’s Promise’

If you are thinking about adding Witch Hazel to your garden, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Give plants room.  Slow growing at first, Hamamelis can get quite large with age. Expect plants to grow 8-10’ or taller and 10-12’ wide. They enjoy full sun or partial shade, and well-drained soil.
  2. Winter food for bees. Honeybees will seek out their blossoms during a late winter/early spring thaw. 
  3. Flower buds form in summer. If you cut back plants in summer and fall, you will sacrifice next year’s blossoms.
  4. These winter blooming varieties are hybrids of the Japanese (H. japonicus)  and Chinese  (H. mollis) forms, and are grafted on native Hamamelis rootstock. Sometimes strong branches will break below the graft, and you might notice, in autumn, that these branches will bear yellow flowers of Hamamelis virginiana. We recommend removing the branches that break below the graft because the fall blooming native plants are more vigorous and may overwhelm your winter blooming stock.

    Hamamelis x ‘Jelena’

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8 thoughts on “Growing and Forcing Witch Hazel”

  1. Katherine
    I have been looking at the weather to bring in witch hazel, forsythia etc. However it was my understanding that you had to wait for a sunny day above freezing ( so the sap was rising) to bring in forsythia and other early bloomers. (I have the detailed instructions for the shrubs from another post).
    Not sure if the same applies to witch hazel as its an earlier bloomer. We have 20 degrees weather for a while with no sunny above freezing in sight. (Rochester NY). Thanks.

  2. In-ground ‘Jelena’ beginning to unfurl over here in Vineyard (north shore) woodland. Think this week may show it fully open.

    I never would have planted them were it not for exposure when younger to those who knew “a thing or two.” Witch hazels are refined plants for sophisticated tastes.

  3. I thought I had read the the Arnold’s Promise variety which is winter blooming was a hybrid that cross pollinated itself with the native and one of the oriental varieties at the Arnold Aboretum in Boston and therefore it isn’t I grafted plant. I have not that blooms in February. I’ll look to see if there is a sign of s graft next time I’m out back.

  4. My witch hazel virginiana bloomed before Christmas here in southeastern VA. I did not notice any fragrance, but I love to have flowers in bloom every month of the year and the bees came out for it. We had record-breaking rain and no hard freeze until one record-breaking snowstorm in the 2nd week of December. Also, I made cuttings of this shrub last fall, and hope they will thrive.

  5. Joe, I had understood that Arnold’s Promise was grown from seed collected by William Judd at the Arnold Arboretum. It was determined the seedlings were a natural occurring cross of H. mollis and H. japonica. Arnold’s Promise was introduced in 1928.
    It is possible that your plant was grown from cuttings. Cuttings do root, but they are very slow to establish. Commercial production is usually by grafts on H. virginina rootstock, as growth rate is enhanced.

  6. I have a burgundy purple one that a man near Rochester, NY was trying to hybridized to get a strong red purple. The plant I purchased and carried back by plane was one of his attempts, but unsatisfactory. I will message you a photo as it is nearly finished blooming. Diane our in full force today, but no fragrance. My orange one I purchased years ago is sending out a heavenly scent though.

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