Last March my neighbor brought me a cut branch of a fragrant flower he called “witch hazel”; he told me it was in full bloom in his garden. Is it really possible for a plant to flower this early in New England? — N.D., Killingworth, CT
Witch hazel is a fascinating plant because it blooms at the very end or the very beginning of the growing season. New England’s native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is the last woody plant in this region to flower each fall, sometimes as late as December. Vernal witch hazel (H. vernalis) is native to regions farther south, and flowers in late winter, as do the various Asian species and cultivars. Chances are your neighbor brought you a branch of one of the Asian cultivars, which are fairly common here and produce showy blooms. Witch hazel flowers unfurl on warm days and curl up when temperatures get cold, often blooming for many weeks. Cultivars are available with yellow, red, or orange flowers; they’re a wonderful season-extending addition to Zone 5 and warmer landscapes.
Until recently many garden centers avoided stocking witch hazel: By the time their customers arrived, it had long since finished flowering. With its bright yellow flowers — sometimes tinged with hues of red and orange, the fragrant witch hazel has grown in popularity in recent years. It unfurls its blossoms in mid-October and may even continue blooming into late November or early December. It requires relatively little maintenance, making it a great choice to incorporate into landscaping that is in need of a splash of color during the late autumn months. Chances are your local garden center will be familiar with cultivars that are recommended for your region.
Do grow witch hazel in your yard? If so, we’d love to hear what you think of it.