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Witch Hazels Dazzle the Dormant Season

Updated on May 3, 2013
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Fire up the fall and winter

Witch hazels (Hamamelis spp.) are ornamental small trees or large shrubs. They put on a gorgeous display of color in fall or winter depending on the species. When other plants are entering or in a state of dormancy the witch hazel is going all out shocking people with stunning colors and fragrant spices in the air. In autumn witch hazels’ leaves may be yellow, gold, tangerine, rust, or maroon. Their fragrant flowers have twisted petals in a variety of warm yellow, orange, and red hues.

The most interesting feature of the witch hazels is their habit of flowering in the cold season, often in the dead of winter. The flowers can be anywhere from ½ to 2 ½ inches in diameter bursting with bright color and spicy fragrance. Each dainty blossom has an appearance like shreds of twisted papier mache that radiate from a central hub. Most of these shrubs have yellow flowers, however, hybrids cross the spectrum of orange to maroon.

Their strange flowering time may be what attracts most gardeners to these bushes, but their foliage is attractive too. Their autumn foliage can provide stiff ornamental competition to plants that have already shed their leaves. It can also feed the color blaze by being paired with burning bushes. Like the flowers, the fall leaves in shades of clear yellow are brilliant and appealing, but some witch hazels fire up the autumn landscape with gold, tangerine, and rust-sometimes all at the same time or even on the same leaf.

Flowering times range from mid fall through to April, depending on the cultivar, the zone, and the weather. Once the blooming begins, it can last for several weeks. Grown in mass, they can be breathtaking. As a specimen, they can tie a whole small garden together. They make awesome companions to rhododendrons, azaleas, and dogwoods. Scented varieties should be placed near walking areas so that everyone can enjoy their perfume.

Also, the wispy flowers of the witch hazel are shown to their best advantage when displayed against a dark, solid backdrop. Of course, they also look excellent when placed where the sunlight can be seen filtering through and illuminating them.

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