February Tree of the Month — Witchhazel

Hamamelis x intermedia  USDA Zones 5-9

The Ewing Environmental Commission has chosen the Witchhazel hybrid, Hamamelis x intermedia to be the February Tree of the Month. Although this small tree – or large shrub – is not a native (the crossing of Japanese Witchhazel, H. japonica, and Chinese Witchhazel, H. mollis), these two species combined produce a beautiful, fragrantly blooming plant that is outstanding in our winter landscape from late January through mid-March, depending on the weather and location.

Hamamelis x Intermedia can easily be mis-identified as a Forsythia from a distance. The flowers can be clear yellow but depending on the variety, are sometimes orange or reddish, and appear before the leaves. The flowers, 1.5” in diameter, have four ribbon-like, contorted and showy petals which are frost-proof. The fruit, which is a small, dried ½” hairy capsule, matures in the fall and opens to explosively discharge its two seeds a considerable distance. Turkeys, pheasants, cardinals and grouse enjoy Witchhazel seeds.

The bright green leaves are broadly oval and waxy, alternately arranged on zig-zag stems; they usually measure 3-4” long and the edges are toothed. The fall color is outstanding, with orange to red to copper hues. The bark is smooth grey to grayish brown

Hamamelis x intermedia will grow to 15’ to 20’ in height and will be equally broad; it is upright- spreading and will develop an irregular, rounded crown. It can thrive in either full sun or partial shade and is tolerant of poor soils although a well-drained, moist and fertile soil will allow it to thrive. Witchhazel is considered to be a maintenance-free plant, although occasional pruning may help to tidy it up. It is relatively slow-growing.

This small tree is useful in naturalized situations, near large buildings and in shrub borders. It is well suited for Ewing, USDA Hardiness Zone 6 B.

There are many cultivated varieties (CVs) of this plant available, not all of them yellow-flowering, as its characteristics have made it very popular. Most frequently seen varieties are “Arnold Promise’, ‘Jelena’ and ‘Pallida’.

Witchhazel oil extract is used medicinally as an astringent and for soothing sprains and bruises. The flexible wood was once popular for making divining rods, which were employed to detect water sources; the term “witch” is derived from the old English “wice” which meant bendable.

There are very few significant pests or diseases which affect this plant but Japanese beetles are known to enjoy the foliage. Deer do not favor Witchhazel.

Ann Farnham, LLA

Email the Ewing Environmental Commission with your suggestions for the Tree of the Month.

2 thoughts on “February Tree of the Month — Witchhazel

  1. Kalika F

    Hi there! I recently acquired a witch hazel tree. As a sweet gesture, my boyfriend planted it about two weeks ago. He just told me he did not break apart the roots and I’m pretty sure he planted it deeper than the original soil level. Is it safe to dig up and replant? Should I leave it? I’m fairly new at gardening so any advice would be appreciated! Thank you:)


    • ewinggreenteam

      Hello, Kalika,

      Your tree should certainly be planted no deeper than the grade or surrounding ground level.

      When a plant is “pot bound”, the roots tightly encircle the root ball. The roots should be loosened up before planting so they won’t continue to grow bound in a circle.

      Whether you should replant it is a difficult question. Was it in a container, or wrapped and tied in burlap (“B&B”) ? If the root ball is large you might injure it digging it up and removing it. If it is small and manageable, can you lift it out of the hole in one piece?

      The planting hole should be 2x the width of the root ball and no deeper. You can add some soil to the bottom of the hole, tap it down to compress it, measure that it is not still too deep, and replant, watering it in the process at a couple of levels as you add the soil. Add no more than 2″ of mulch around the tree and keep the mulch at least 2-3″ away from the trunk.

      I hope this addresses your questions. Good luck, and enjoy this wonderful tree!

      Ann Farnham


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