While most trees and shrubs bloom in spring or summer, witch hazels are a notable exception. Common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blooms from mid-October to early December. Vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) and the intermedia witch hazels (hybrids resulting from crosses between Japanese and Chinese witch hazels) flower from early February to late March.
Witch hazel flowers consist of four, strap-like petals which curl up on cold days and unfurl in warm weather. Common witch hazel produces yellow flowers and grows 20 to 25 feet tall. The flowers of vernal witch hazel vary from yellow to brownish red. Vernal witch hazel may eventually attain a height of 10 feet. The flowers on intermedia witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia) range in color from yellow to orange to red to purple (depending on the cultivar).
Notable cultivars of common witch hazel include ‘Harvest Moon’ (lemon yellow flowers, vase-shaped habit, grows 15 to 20 feet tall) and ‘Little Suzie’ (soft yellow flowers, 4 to 6 feet tall). ‘Autumn Embers’ (copper-red flowers, 8 to 10 feet tall), ‘Amethyst’ (reddish purple flowers, 6 to 8 feet tall), and ‘Carnea’ (burgundy red flowers, 6 to 8 feet tall) are attractive vernal witch hazel cultivars. ‘Arnold Promise’ (bright yellow flowers, 12 to 15 feet tall), ‘Diane’ (copper red flowers, 8 to 12 feet tall), and ‘Jelena’ (coppery orange flowers, 8 to 12 feet tall) are popular intermedia witch hazels.
Another ornamental feature of witch hazels is their fall leaf color. The leaves of common and vernal witch hazels turn yellow in fall. The fall foliage of ‘Autumn Embers’ varies from yellow to orange to burgundy red. The leaves of ‘Amethyst’ turn shades of yellow and orange in fall. ‘Jelena’ has orange-red fall foliage. The autumn foliage of ‘Diane’ consists of shades of yellow, orange, and red.
Witch hazels have few insect and disease pests and are easy to grow. They can be grown in full sun to part shade. (Best flowering occurs in full sun.) Witch hazels perform best in moist, well-drained soils. Avoid wet, poorly drained sites and dry locations.
Witch hazels are excellent plants for naturalized woodland sites, shrub borders, and hedges/screens. They can also be utilized as specimen plants.