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Hamamelis, the perfect plant for late winter flowers

Posted by David Epstein  February 23, 2014 07:35 AM

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I got a call from a friend this morning announcing how happy he was he’d made it through winter. While we still have more cold and snow on the way and his excitement was likely premature, there are definite signs of spring all around us. Nevertheless it can be a frustrating time of year when you want spring to arrive, yet nothing is in bloom.

I have the perfect cure for the late winter blues. If you haven’t added a Hamamelis, commonly known as witch hazel, to your garden/yard, you might want to think about introducing a specimen this spring. These amazing plants can bring spring to your hard with snow still on the ground.

There are many new cultivars of winter and spring blooming witch hazel. The plants known as Hamamelis x intermedia, are a cross of hybrid witch hazels born from parents of two species' parents: Hamamelis mollis (Chinese witch hazel) and Hamamelis japonica (Japanese witch hazel). The many hybrids are changing the old perception of witch hazels as twiggy, non-landscape-worthy shrubs. Now with an abundance of flower colors (orange, red, pink, and purple, plus a whole range of yellows), smaller more compact/home-appropriate sizes, and an eye-popping pattern of fall foliage color options, there is definitely one for your yard.

I'll answer questions about plants on Twitter @growingwisdom.

The plants can bloom anytime from late January until March or even April. It’s very important you site your Hamamelis properly. These plants need at least a half-day of sun and will be more floriferous with nearly a full day’s sunshine. Since the flowers are not very large, I recommend planting the shrub somewhere with a background such as a brick wall, the house or a stand of evergreens. This will help the flowers to stand out in the stark late winter landscape.

Many of the cultivars also have a wonderful scent ranging from sweet to intoxicating. The native form of the plant, Hamamelis virginiana blooms in the fall while still in leaf. Sometimes you can smell the plant before you ever see it. There are cultivars of the fall plant, but I would personally rather reserve my limited space for something else.

Some of the newer cultivars of the early bloomers are Little Suzie' and 'Harvest Moon'. Other notable plants are ‘Arnold Promise’ known for its fragrant yellow flowers, long bloom time, and narrow profile. Either of ‘Old Copper,’ ‘Aphrodite,’ and ‘Rubin’ produce warm-colored blooms. One of the later blooming cultivars is ‘Orange Encore’ which can bloom through April, before leafing out.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

David Epstein has been a professional meteorologist and horticulturist for three decades. David spent 16 years at WCVB in Boston and now freelances for WGME in Portland, Maine. In 2006, More »

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