A blooming Witch Hazel uplifts spirits with an early promise of spring showing off its strap-like brightly colored petals and enticing fragrance. These are the Witch Hazels most often noticed in the Washington area, a large upright spreading shrub or small tree that blooms for several weeks, starting as early as late January. This “Intermediate” Witch Hazel (Hamamelis X intermedia) originated as a cross between two Asian species and was first introduced in 1945. There are yellow, red, and orange-red varieties, not all of which have a fragrance. Witch Hazels grow well in the understory beneath aged shade trees, though best flowering is in full sun. They are exceptionally valuable for transition zones separating cultivated landscapes from undisturbed wildlands. They do not do well in dry soil. Deer do not like to eat Witch Hazel, but the thin bark should be protected from rubbing damage.
We have one notable Witch Hazel on Town property off Grove Avenue between McCathran Hall and the Women’s Club. It was planted in 2012 by Carol Uhlendorf in memory of her daughter Anne Marie. A photo of the flowering tree taken the second week of February will be found on the Town website.
Our native Common Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a larger plant (up to 20’ tall and wide), whose shorter flowers bloom in the fall. Root stock from Common Witch Hazel is often used to graft to the intermediate variety, which otherwise would tend to sucker. Common Witch Hazel and the smaller Vernal Witch Hazel (native to the Ozarks) can be found at native plant sales.
Plants in Washington Grove, from F&B member and Master Gardener Jay Everhart