Witch Hazel: A Winter Beauty
The hybrid witch hazel, ‘Orange Peel’, sports thick, bright-orange and yellow petals in midwinter and emits a light fragrance. ©Photo courtesy of Fairweather Gardens
The yellow flowers of Chinese witch hazel arrive in winter, bringing a welcome display of color along with a heady perfume. As beautiful as forsythia but much less common, this large shrub has singular charm, with its fringelike flower petals and winter show. Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) has the most aromatic flowers, but other witch hazels produce equally stunning blossoms—in hues from yellow to red. As a bonus, many witch hazels have attractive and colorful fall foliage. There are scores of cultivated varieties from which to choose. The Asian witch hazels usually grow 10–15 feet tall and 10–15 feet wide with an upright, rounded shape. Good choices for borders and hedges, they perform best in full sun to part shade in well-drained, evenly moist, slightly acidic soil that is rich in organic matter. Chinese witch hazel is less hardy than hybrids (zones 6–8) but still suitable for most of North Carolina. Temperatures colder than -10 degrees F will damage flower buds. Common witch hazel (H. virginiana), an Eastern woodland native, blooms earlier (late fall to early winter) and is much larger (to 30 feet tall), with fragrant yellow flowers. The other American native, vernal witch hazel (H. vernalis), is also suitable for our area and much smaller (6–10 feet), with fragrant, yellow-orange to reddish-orange flowers. Both natives are also available in the nursery trade.