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

Witch Hazels (page 3 of 4)

by Michael A. Dirr

Japanese Witch Hazel

Japanese witch hazel (H. japonica); zones 5 through 8; 10 to 15 feet. This is a sparsely branched, spreading, at times almost flat-topped shrub or small tree. Most of the plants I have seen in cultivation were wide-spreading shrubs. The 2- to 4-inch-long leaves often have a sheen and in fall turn rich combinations of yellow, red, and purple. The four-petaled yellow flowers, 2/3 inch long, are very narrow, strap-shaped, and wrinkled and crinkled almost like crepe paper. Two or three flowers occur together on the leafless branches in February or March. They are less showy than those on H. intermedia and H. mollis. Flowers are scented, but not as strongly as those of H. mollis.

H. j. arborea. Tall-growing form (to 15 to 18 feet) has horizontally angled branches. Small yellow flowers with a brown base and a faint sweet scent are produced in abundance. Fall leaf color is yellow. A beautiful plant, but not quite up to the H. intermedia types.

Chinese Witch Hazel

Chinese witch hazel (H. mollis); zones 5 through 8; 10 to 15 feet tall and wide. This native of central China is one of the best witch hazels for the landscape, and probably the most fragrant. Flowers make a beautiful show in February or March. Unfortunately, it is also the least cold-hardy; temperatures of -10° to -15° F will injure flower buds.

Leaves are 3 to 6 inches long and almost as wide. They're an unremarkable medium green in summer, then turn a spectacular yellow to yellow-orange in fall. In my garden, foliage changes in late October or early November. Four-petaled yellow flowers have a rich red-brown base; each strap-shaped petal is 5/8 inch long.

Left to its own devices, this oval to rounded shrub could grow to 20 feet, but overall the growth rate is slow.

'Early Bright'. Compared to the species, flowers are brighter yellow and open three to four weeks earlier: mid-January in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. The original 37-year-old plant of this variety is 15 feet tall and wide.

'Goldcrest'. Large flowers, a rich golden yellow suffused with claret at base, have a strong, and sweet scent and often appear later than on other H. mollis varieties. Petals are fatter than those of the species. It flowers in early February in my garden and has been consistently spectacular in Athens and Atlanta, Georgia. Habit is upright and vase-shaped.

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