Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Trees, Shrubs, & Vines

Witch Hazels (page 2 of 4)

by Michael A. Dirr

H. intermedia

H. intermedia (hybrid of H. japonica and H. mollis); zones 5 through 8; 15 to 20 feet. Among these are the most highly regarded ornamental witch hazels. These hybrids were originally described in 1945 by horticultural taxonomist Alfred Rehder, who studied plants growing in Boston's Arnold Arboretum.

Plants are usually vigorous, upright-spreading, and rather loosely branched if not pruned. Some types display wide-spreading habits. They flower from late January into mid-March in the north, earlier farther south. Colors range from yellow to red. (Red-flowered types may also show more red fall coloration than the yellow-flowered types, but this is not absolute.)

Flower buds are not as hardy as branches. In 1994, after exposure to -22° to -24° F in the vicinity of Louisville, Kentucky, H. intermedia varieties did not flower where plants were not covered by snow.

The number of named varieties now available is staggering, and without a scorecard it is difficult to separate the best. These six are my favorites.

'Arnold Promise'. Clear yellow, fragrant flowers have a reddish base. Each petal is almost an inch long. Bloom in Boston (zone 6) generally begins in late February and lasts until mid-March. The plant reaches about 20 feet tall and wide. Excellent yellow, orange, and red fall color.

'Barmstedt Gold'. Blooms of this German introduction are rich golden yellow suffused with red at the base; fragrance is sweet. Each very narrow petal is almost an inch long; flowers have a claret calyx cup. They appear in late January to early February. Fall color is yellow. Ruth Dix, of the U.S. National Arboretum, considers this vigorous shrub with narrowly ascending branches to be one of the best yellows.

'Diane'. This is one of the best red-flowering forms, better than 'Ruby Glow' but still more copper-red than red. Each very narrow petal is 5/8 to 3/4 inch long, shiny, burnished red turning bronze with age, and faintly fragrant; calyx is purple-red. February is bloom time. I have seen this one in flower on several occasions and was not as impressed as I'd hoped to be: flowers aren't red, and old leaves persist and must be removed to maximize the flower effect. This medium to large shrub with wide-spreading branches produces rich yellow-orange-red fall color.

'Jelena' (indistinguishable from 'Copper Beauty'). Excellent in flower, and from a distance it glows like copper; each 1-inch-long sweet-scented petal is claret red toward base, orange in middle, and yellow at the tip. Petal form is narrow, kinked, and twisted. Leaves turn rich orange-red in fall.

'Pallida'. Soft sulfur yellow flowers have petals about 3/4 inch long with reddish purple base; flowers are profuse and sweetly fragrant. In my garden, this broad-spreading shrub blooms about mid-February. It's one of the best and one of my favorites. (While I do not, many consider this a variety of H. mollis.)

'Ruby Glow' ('Adonis' and 'Rubra Superba'). Coppery red flowers in late January and early February mature to reddish brown; very narrow petals are about 5/8 inch long, kinked and twisted, with a dark purple calyx. Fragrance is weak. Fall leaf color is a combination of orange and red. The original plant is now more than 20 feet high and wide; form is erect and vase-shaped, particularly in youth.

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