Witch Hazel and their Welcome Winter Flowers

January’s often a time when flowers are in very short supply, or perhaps even covered in snow. Snowdrops give a welcome treat in these colder times, but shrubs can also give good value in January and February. There’s plenty of evergreen shrubs that are beautiful in winter months, but what about deciduous plants?

Some of the benefits of deciduous plants are the variety that’s available and the stunning autumn colour they produce. There’s many types that flower in early spring before their leaves have emerged, and many have small flowers that are often fragrant too. They work really well in a winter garden as they add variety amongst more common evergreens.

Cercis, Acer and Hamamelis in autumn colour at Aberglasney Gardens

One of the earliest and most spectacular plants to do this is Witch Hazel, which starts in December and finishes in March. Any plants that give interest during this period and a burst of autumn colour are well worth a place in any garden. There’s a much bigger variety available these days with shades ranging from yellow to orange and red which stand out superbly in poor winter light. Their stems are clothed in small spidery flowers which on their own are insignificant, but in groups, they really stand out and look stunning. They’re also fragrant which adds another layer of delight, and frost doesn’t damage their flowers unlike other plants like Magnolia.

Witch Hazel

So, where should you grow Witch Hazel in your garden? Well, they prefer open, sunny spots with a little shelter. Some people say they’re woodland plants, which I don’t think is entirely correct as they can become laggy in deep shade. The best I’ve seen them is in open conditions, usually south or west facing. Acid or neutral soil is preferable, and they enjoy being mulched with 50mm of well-rotted compost or bark. They prefer lighter soils, but even so, have done great in Aberglasney’s heavy soil in areas that are well-drained – the addition of mulch helps a great deal with this.

Witch Hazel flowers

They’re very hardy when mature, but young plants will require frost protection. At Aberglasney, we tend to avoid this by planting larger, mature plants. They’re more expensive but once you’ve established them they’ll last for many years. I’ve seen some that are fifty years old still and providing good value for money. Another benefit is that they can be pruned to reduce size by removing unwanted branches back to their thick stems after flowering. They often don’t need any pruning, however, if given enough space.

Their Latin name is Hamamelis and there’s plenty of types to choose from which have varying colours and flowering times. Hamamelis. × intermedia ‘Diane’ has an award of garden merit or AGM. It’s the finest red-flowered Witch Hazel with a long flowering period which lasts throughout midwinter. It’s also lightly scented, has a height of around 2.5m (8ft) and spread of 3m (10ft). Hamamelis. × intermedia ‘Jelena’ also has an award of garden merit. It has unscented coppery-orange flowers which appear in early to mid-winter. It has a height of 4m (13ft) and a 4m spread (13ft). Hamamelis mollis ‘Wisley Supreme’ flowers in January and has bright yellow flowers with a nice scent. It grows to 3m (10ft) in height and 3m (10ft) spread. Another lovely variety is Hamamelis virginiana Which bears yellow scented flowers in mid to late autumn as opposed to winter. It has a height of 4m (13ft) and spread of 4m (13ft).

Hamamelis, commonly known as Witch Hazel.

A particular favourite of mine is Hamemalis x intermedia ‘Orange Peel’ which has gorgeous flowers which resemble orange peelins and have a beautiful scent too. It grows to 4m (13ft) in height with a 4m (13ft) spread.

Orange Witch Hazel flowers

Witch Hazel are wonderful plants which provide interest to a garden at different times of the year. They’re very tough and require almost no maintenance which is great and makes them very long-lived plants. Buying Hamamalis is best done through specialist shrub nurseries.


Tips for the Week:

  1. Weed Chickweed and Hairy Bitter Cress as they continue to grow during winter months
  2. Sow onion seeds under glass or on a windowsill as they need a long growing season
  3. Chitting potatoes by placing them in a cool, light, frost-free place with the eye facing up
  4. Prune Wisteria by cutting it back to 2 – 3 buds on last year’s wood
  5. If renovation pruning is required for rambling Roses, now is a good time to do it