Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bewitching Witch Hazels-January's Plant of the Month

While walking around my garden a hunch told me I should look closely at one of my witch hazels, Hamamelis vernalis. The other witch hazel I have is Hamamelis virginiana, Common Witch Hazel. The vernal witch hazel is in bloom! Some say the forsythia is a harbinger of spring and the first shrub to bloom in the new year. Not true! Witch hazels are very early bloomers and much earlier than forsythia. Witch hazels are not as showy as forsythias and had I not been looking, I surely would have missed the bloom. Though witch hazels are not as showy as forsythias, they more than make up for this fault by being very fragrant.

Two summers ago I researched witch hazels quite thoroughly. I wanted to be sure I purchased the exact type I desired. I found two nurseries which carried witch hazels. One nearby nursery was located in Louisville, Kentucky, and the other one was in Marion, North Carolina. Obviously, the nursery in Louisville was much closer and would have been a better option to purchase my witch hazels, but as luck would have it, my in-laws live just 20 miles from Marion. We had a visit scheduled to see the in-laws within a month of researching my witch hazels. So I chose not to travel to Louisville, and instead waited to purchase a witch hazel or two during our visit to North Carolina. When I can shop at a plant nursery while visiting in-laws, I get so much happier about the visit.

The name of the nursery is called We Du Natives, and the website can be found at: You really should call ahead if you plan to visit this nursery. The owner is very knowledgeable and told me a funny story about the mother plant of my witch hazel. He has motion detectors set up in his nursery with an alarm to alert him to visitors. (He lives on the property). When he comes out to investigate late night alarms, he said he sometimes smells cheap mens' cologne. He diligently looks around for someone to be there, but when he finds no one, he surmises it is the witch hazel smelling up the garden and perhaps wildlife set off the motion detector. I don't think my witch hazel smells like cheap mens' cologne, but more like honeysuckle. It is not quite large enough to fragrance my whole garden, but will with time.

Witch hazel flowers are not all that showy, but the shrubs do usually bloom before the foliage comes out. Depending on the variety you purchase, some witch hazels can be showy. The tonic witch hazel is made from the bark and leaves of the Hamamelis virginiana. That is usually the first question people ask when I mention witch hazel shrubs for the garden. And no, I am not going to attempt to make the tonic as my pleasure is only in growing the witch hazel.

Most witch hazels are native plants and do best in a woodland setting with rich organic soil. Full sun is probably not the best situation but they can tolerate part sun. The purple-green plant in the the top left corner of the picture is 'Huskers Red' Penstemon, a wonderful little plant I love in the garden.

The witch hazels can get quite large with a large lateral spread. The two I purchased fared well this past summer, even with the drought. They have not grown much but are well established and I look forward to an even bigger bloom next winter. I find them easy to care for in the garden. The fact witch hazels are fragrant and bloom in the middle of winter, make them my choice for January's Plant of the Month.

in the garden....enjoying the first bloom of the new year.


  1. I've thought about getting a witchhazel at some point. I need to do some research like you did before I do. It would be nice to have more winter color!

  2. Tina, Interesting that you covered this subject today! I ordered one this a.m. The Hamamelis virginiana.

  3. Hi Dave,
    You really do need to get a witch hazel. I think you have some nice spots by your woodline. I love my two.

    Hi Nina,
    You will love it. Easy to grow and blooms reliably. My hamamelis virginaina blooms in the fall. It is fragrant too if I remember correctly. I barely watered it this summer which is such a bonus! Mine is in part shade and will get quite large laterally so leave some room for it to spread without having to prune.

  4. Nina,
    Where did you order your witch hazel from? I have not had much luck finding them around here and haven't seen too many in the catalogs either. Another source might be helpful for readers.

  5. I have heard of Witch hazel but dont recall ever seeing one... I probably saw one in a public garden at some point. When touring public gardens, my brain gets into overload with all the information taken in…

    Yesterday I was digging some kitchen scrapes into the flower bed by the chimney and dug up something strange... It was a potato type thing but dont think it was a potato! Did not smell like a potato nor was it shaped like a potato I have ever seen! It had smaller tubular types attached to it kind of like a root system. I have mostly Purple Queen in that planter and I wonder if they can take root like a tubular...??... I buried it back into the soil to see what becomes of it. Was an interesting discovery….

    An interesting article in our paper yesterday. A huge garden just over the boarder in South Carolina had a winter crop of Strawberries! Mild winter and thermal blankets aided in the process. Owner said first time ever for a winter crop. Now fields being prepared for Spring/early Summer crop….

  6. Good to see you on here today Skeeter. Missed you yesterday.

  7. Tina, I ordered from Dutch Gardens It ships bareroot 18-24". Small but I'm o.k with that. Sometimes in order to find the unusual I find I have no choice but to order from a catalog. I pay close attention to their guarantee, and use it quite frequently!

  8. Oh yes, I also ordered a cardinal candy viburnum. (Viburnum dilatatum cardinal candy)

  9. Hi Skeeter,
    You may have seen a witch hazel but you NEVER would have paid attention. Overload, yes, but it is usually a boring plant. Does have fall color and the bloom, but otherwise unremarkable.

    There are SO many plants that make tubers. To name a few that come to mind: 4 oclocks and potato vine. Whatever it is it may very well grow again in the spring. I am not familiar with Purple Queen. Is is verbena or something?

    I can definitely believe the strawberries. The winter seems non-existent, though it is scheduled to be very cold this weekend, it hasn't stayed cold for a long period of time. The soil is still warm. DD's are up everywhere, as well as tulips, hyacinths and crocuses.

    Hey Mom,
    Always good to see YOU on here.

    Thanks for the info. I will surely be asking you for updates and some pictures. I am not sure about the viburnum you ordered-so I will especially be looking forward to hearing about that one. That is how I learn. Even though your witch hazel is small, I don't think that is a problem. Mine are small too. They settle in better but we gardeners just have to wait-that time thing again-for the results. Patience is a virtue, or so the saying goes....Off to school I go. The new term has started and I already know I will have trouble dragging myself away when the days start staying bright longer. Such is life.

  10. Hey Jean, I checked in yesterday, just did not write. I was a bit busy working on cleaning two old electric fans that I brought back home with me from TN trip. Dont know how old the thing’s are but guessing at least 50 years if not more.... I am 44 and we used them in our house and my grandmother’s house. We did not have central heat and air back then. I spent several hours removing rust and I still have a long way to go…

    Tina, I bet the thing was from the Potato vine I planted there this past summer! I never did anything but plop the pot over into a hole so I bet that is it!!! I hope it comes back next year....

    They are calling for freezing rain and sleet here tonight but doubt it will amount to much. Should actually be colder here then TN the next two days! Then back into the upper 50's again. Not too bad as we get enough warm days to offset the ugly cold ones....

    You dont know what Purple Queen is? I love it when I stump you Tina! I think it is in the Wandering Jew family. I will send you a picture of mine from 2006 when it did so well. Last year, the squirrels or voles got to it and it did not do too well.... It has a cute little tiny pink bloom throughout the summer that the butterflies and hummingbirds like...

  11. Hi Skeeter! Good to hear from you. I checked my email message before I checked the blog so I got an answer to my question about the fans. Have fun cleaning them. Sometimes chemical rust removers or converters work good. The Saint should know about them as Mr. Fix-it does with all the cars they work on.

    I know the Purple Queen as Secretia (sp). I grew it in 06 but it did not come back last year. You have stumped me more than once and that is great. I truly learn something new everyday and I have learned a bunch on this blog.:)

    Snowing here. We actually have about 1 inch on the ground. It will melt as the ground is warm. It is nice though. The Jimster made a huge snowball from it and was hoping for a snow day.

  12. Happy to see your post about witch hazel, one of my favorite tree/shrubs. I have the orange one, Diane, it blooms a little later than the yellow. It was ordered from Wayside five or six years ago and has grown extremely slowly. I have read that they need adequate water during dry periods and noticed they bloom on previous years's growth. Lack of water last year meant little new growth on many shrubs, so few flowers this year. I also ordered the viburnum cardinal candy, with the pollenator winterthur, again from wayside. It should have loads of red berries, hence the name.

  13. Frances, are you saying the viburnum cardinal candy needs a pollenator? I didn't read this in the catalog, or on any web site I looked at. Thanks

  14. Hi Frances,
    Nice of you to stop in. Diane is a popular cultivar of witch hazel and sounds like you know it well. Did you water it last summer? I rarely watered mine and they both bloomed fine. But it is true they grow slow. That is fine with me.

    Frances can be found at:

    She has a beautiful garden and very informative blog.

  15. Nina,
    I have done some research on the viburnums. Here is what I have found out. Frances may know more and can add as she is able to, but here is my input on pollinators.

    According to Dirr, viburnums are in the family Caprifoliaceae. This is important to understand what type of flowers the plant has. This family has both male and female parts (stamen and pistil) on its flowers on one plant. There are technical terms like monocecious and polygamomonoecious and another I won't print here, but basically it comes down to the fact a viburnum CAN technically self pollinate itself. You need pollination for fruit, but not for flowers. Some plants which are self fertile (that is both male and female flowers) are not compatible with pollinating themselves. That is to say they don't pollinate themselves well but can.

    As Jim, my professor in school likes to say, nature's goal is diversity. Therefore if a plant pollinates itself a kind of vacumn is created which can shrink the gene pool. That is not always best. Some plants therefore are not good self pollinators. You then need a similar plant to diversify the seeds (offspring if you will) and keep the gene pool broad and adaptable.

    I hope I am not being too technical but this is the bottomline, viburnums can produce fruit without a nearby pollinator but the likelihood is not high. You should have a polliator close by.

    That is probably why my Mt Airy viburnum is spotty with its fruit as I stated in my viburnum post. Coincidentally, my viburnum is a linden viburnum like the one you ordered. Just different cultivars. Maybe we should get together and swap cuttings!

    I recommend to be sure you get fruit, plant another viburnum close by. Dirr does not specifically address this under the individual postings for viburnums in his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, but I have found several websites which have some information saying another pollinator helps with fruit production in viburnums. Check them out. The pollinator Winterthur Frances ordered is a viburnum nudum, not dilatum. I don't think it would matter for the specific epithet (the dilatum, nudum, dentatum, etc) for a pollinator because fruits are usually always in the same specific epithet but different cultivars when planting for good pollination. But I can't find research enough to state this. Websites just say to plant more than one.

    I hope I haven't thoroughly confused everyone but pollination is important for fruit. Plant more than one viburnum and hopefully you will have lots of fruit-but no guarantee! I have three types of viburnums and still only get spotty fruit. Email me if I can explain more but for now, plan on planting another viburnum. Cutting offer still stands.:)

    Talking about Cardinal Candy seeming to be able to produce berries without a nearby pollinator.

  16. Tina, Thanks ever so much, this garden "stuff" can really get complicated. I'm too old to retain all this! I will plant another one. I just didn't find the right web sight. you can get a cutting off mine when we get together this Spring/summer. I am not usually sucessful with starting a cutting, but will try. I could use some instructions in this also. Again thanks!!!

  17. I am sorry I was so technical. Helps ME to understand better. I will take some cuttings of mine and root them. Hopefully they will take and one is yours. The pollinator you plant has to be one which blooms when Cardinal Candy blooms. Not all viburnums bloom the same time. I am pretty sure my Mt Airy will work great since it is also in the dilatum family. It is a flat head bloom which smells STRONGLY. I will also be getting another viburnum. Yours may be too small and I wouldn't want to take cuttings when it is just getting established. I will probably pick mine up at Wal-Mart when it is in bloom to be sure I get which will work. The other two viburnums I have are not the same type of flower and the one which I would think would work, blooms later than my Mt. Airy. I definitely learned something new today. The literature needs to change. I am looking forward to getting berries-maybe this year! Will keep my readers posted.