Which Hazel is Right for You?

The scent of these thread-like witch hazel flowers wafts through the parking lot in front of TJ Maxx each winter!

In Shades of Lemon Yellow to Blood Orange

When you encounter the fragrant, yellow blooms of Hamamelis vernalis in the early winter months of January and February, you are almost fooled into believing that spring is just around the corner.  Today I went to take a photo of the fragrant witch hazels whose flowers look like a lion in winter.  I swear that as I crossed the parking lot, I could smell their hyacinth-like scent in the icy air from afar.  “That can’t be!” I thought, looking from side to side to see if  perhaps a woman’s floral perfume was lingering instead, but no, I was alone.  I know its possible because I once read in a Garden Design article that Scott Canning, director of horticulture at Wave Hill, a 28-acre public garden in the Bronx, New York, had a similar moment.  As he reveals, “It was a warm January day in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden,” he says, “and as I was walking, I became aware of a very sweet, clean fragrance wafting toward me. I followed that smell at least a quarter of a mile, only to come upon a grove of witch hazels.”

Just fully opened, the fiery yarn-like tufts of Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ are less fragrant than its yellow cousin, and smell faintly of orange spice. Older, orange and yellow blooms in the background make for a multi-colored sunset hued shrub.

If you like bright lemon yellow floral tones though, and have a spot near a door or a drive so so you can be greeted by the heady fragrance,  consider this open vase-shape shrub as an alternative to the more common forsythia.  Lucky for me, I get to enjoy the fragrance quite often, as these witch hazels are graciously planted in large raised concrete encased beds in front of one of my favorite stores to browse through, TJ Maxx.  Although the intoxicating scent is tempting, I prefer a lemony or light butter yellow for shrub flowers.  I also don’t love the way the leaves hold on in the winter, but that is easily remedied by plucking them off when the blooms appear so they can show off the ribbony rays of sunshine.

The intoxicating fragrance of a prolifically blooming Hamamelis vernalis greets passers by.


There are several varieties of Witch Hazel and I was curious as to what else is out there so next I stopped by my local nursery, sure that they would have an abundant of species as in year’s past.  Witch hazels have been in bloom for  two to three months though and all the shrub varieties are now sold out,  further evidence that the witch hazel often falls into the hands of gardeners eager to lift their spirits during the low-light days of January and February.  My nursery did have three specimens left of Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise,” grafted as a tree.  While witch hazels are often used as understory plants, the tables turn in this case.  Here, clusters of Arnold’s finely shredded yellow petals light up in the afternoon sun and are echoed in the yellow stamens of an evergreen pink flower camellia below. 

Arnold Promise Witch Hazel tree with Pink Camellia understory.

Now for the pièce de résistance, not that I am biased or anything, allow me to share the witch hazel which I chose for my garden, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane.’   Witch Hazel ‘Diane’ is a showpiece in and of itself.  One of the things I love about Diane, is that her firecracker blooms unfurl in various states and stages, so that the effect is one of delicate streamers of lemon, blood orange, grapefruit pink, and tangerine all on the same, bare-branched shrub.  Even though Diane is planted in my front yard, she is set in a side garden a little further back against a cedar wood fence.  I have to remind myself to visit her, crushing a few of her stringy petals between my fingers to release their citrusy-spice scent.  If I forget her, however, and if the timing is right after a hard day’s work, Diane will make me catch my breath as a burning bush in the amber rays of a low winter sun set it alight, reminding me that their is life after work!  Diane does not rest on its laurels, er…hazels, once its blooms are spent, however.  It also has attractive wine-colored bracts and maroon fall tones.

Newly opened blooms of Diane's Witch hazel are blood orange in color and make a lovely contrast to the first snow.


Be sure to look for and research the witch hazel varieties to find out which witch hazel is right for you. Read on for the plant profile from Monrovia Nursery to learn more about how to integrate this early winter bloomer into your garden: 

 Care Information

Follow a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system. Watering can be reduced after establishment. Feed with a general purpose fertilizer before new growth begins in spring. Pruning time: winter.

Fading into the sunset, blooms of Diane Witch Hazel become more variegated as they get older and stand alongside younger blooms, offering a variety of color on the same bush.

Design Ideas
Witch hazel is an exceptional large native shrub for northern homesites.  A perfect choice for breaking up long boundaries and fence lines.  Makes unusual seasonal interest in out of the way walls of foundation planting.  A real problem solver as understory beneath aged old shade trees.  Naturally adapted to compositions of mixed woodlands of evergreens and deciduous forest trees.  Let it go native in wild gardens among natives, grouped with other species from indigenous plant communities. Exceptionally valuable for transition zones separating cultivated landscapes from undisturbed wildlands.  The witch hazel is one of the first winter bloomers.
The ancestors of this modern hybrid are both from Asia. One parent is the highly variable H. japonica, collected and classified by Von Siebold and introduced by the English nursery firm of Vietch and Sons. The other parent, H. mollis, is native to China and collected by Charles Maries in the district of Kukiang in 1879 while working for Veitch. The plant was not officially classified as x Hamamelis until the turn of the century when this new line of Asian witch hazels, not the native Hamamelis, were brought into American Gardens.
The American witch hazels were so named because they were used as dowsing rods by colonials who could not obtain the wood of their English hazel in the New World for that purpose.  All species contain high tannin content and have been a part of the cosmetic industry as an old fashioned astringent known as witch hazel.  Native Americans used it in dozens of remedies and as a valuable coagulant.
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4 thoughts on “Which Hazel is Right for You?

  1. Pingback: A Little Kind of Funk | Lemon Salt

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