Witch Hazel

Bring red and orange tones to your plot with these glorious bloomers


If there’s a flowering shrub that epitomises the earliest days of a new year it’s the witch hazel, or hamamelis. These deciduous are effective all year round but especially valuable in winter, when clusters of four-petalled, ribbon-like blossoms wreath the stems. They possess a sweet scent and the long-lasting flowers can be cut and brought indoors.

The majority of varieties are produced from H. intermedia, a cross between Chinese H. mollis and Japanese H. japonica, with breeders striving to create stronger red and orange tones, or varieties with larger or longer petals and more strongly-scented flowers. They’re among the most reliable shrubs for autumn colour, in shades of yellow, orange and red.

Hamamelis prefer neutral to slightly acidic soil, that is moist, but well drained. They won’t thrive on thin, dry or chalky soils. They prefer dappled shade, but will grow in full sun, as long as the soil doesn’t dry out in summer. They’re usually expensive to buy, especially if you’re purchasing a mature-sized bush. The reason is that specific varieties are usually grafted, taking time to grow to saleable size, but once established they’ll start to grow more vigorously, creating vase-shaped, spreading or tiered forms. Often planted in small borders, they eventually outgrow available space. You can keep growth in check without compromising the flower display by cutting back new growth by half once it has grown to full size in early summer. You can also grow witch hazels in large pots or half barrels using a loam-based ericaceous compost, rather than a soil-free, multi-purpose type, or underplant with winter bulbs such as snowdrops, crocus and scilla.