A Good Year for Witch Hazels

– Posted in: Flowers on the Brain, Native/Invasive, What's up/blooming

It is a family tradition to walk up the hill and into the woods this time of year to seek out the witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blossoms. This is a native shrub or small tree that prefers moist, acidic soil–which we have in abundance.

In some years, the witch hazel doesn't drop its leaves, making it more difficult to see the flowers.

In some years, the witch hazel doesn't drop its leaves, making it more difficult to see the flowers.

This year we found many trees with the leaves already gone.

This year we found many trees with the leaves already gone.

The flower-filled branches are enchanting

The flower-filled branches are enchanting

This is a plant that has romantic connotations for me. (Narcissus is another one.) I already told the story in a previous post, so I’ll just quote myself here:

The first autumn we lived here, my husband took me up in these woods. He was obviously looking for something, but I couldn’t figure out what. Finally, he stopped and said, “Look up.” There before us was a rather large witch hazel completely spangled with the feathery blossoms. I was enchanted. It looked like stars had fallen and gotten caught in the branches.

It’s been a long time in coming, but I think we finally have a witch hazel year equal to that memorable, almost mythic one. Honey, are you up for a walk?

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

Debbie Gibbens March 10, 2012, 2:04 pm

Moving from Oregon to Spokane Wa. I have gardened all my life, but now I have to learn cold weather gardening. Will witch hazel do well in zone 2-3?

Kathy Purdy March 10, 2012, 6:37 pm

Hi, Debbie! The native witch hazel–the one in my blog post–is hardy to Zone 3. There is another native witch hazel, Hamamelis vernalis, that is hardy to Zone 4 and is spring blooming. Neither is native to Washington. The witch hazels you are most likely to see sold are not native to North America and are hardy to Zone 5 at best.

Country Gardener October 23, 2009, 8:40 pm

Great pictures, Kathy. We planted a few native witch hazels here about 6 years ago, but they haven’t performed well at all. Maybe it’s our soil, which I’m sure isn’t acidic. But this fall they have surprised me by blooming nicely, although they still are just 3 ft tall. They’ve hardly grown since we planted them.
.-= Country Gardener´s last blog ..Visting The High Line in New York City =-.

Kathy Purdy October 23, 2009, 9:21 pm

I don’t know if they require acid soil, but they do need moist soil. And I have no idea how fast they grow in the wild.

Country Gardener October 23, 2009, 9:50 pm

They have moist soil where we planted them, but there are a lot of walnut trees around, and they may not be compatible.
.-= Country Gardener´s last blog ..Visting The High Line in New York City =-.

Lynn October 23, 2009, 4:48 pm

Aw, so sweet! I didn’t know about these and will go looking around here for sure. There are vernalis planted at Plantations, and they’re so good to see in February/March. I’d love to see some new blooms now. Thanks for sharing the beauty of your woods and great information as always.

Willi October 21, 2009, 8:51 pm

Thank you so much for this post. I’m thinking of planting a witch hazel next to my front porch, but am having the worst time deciding which cultivar to buy. This makes me think that the native species might be just the ticket.
.-= Willi´s last blog ..An Herb Feast =-.

Kathy Purdy October 21, 2009, 9:45 pm

What’s native in upstate NY won’t necessarily do well in California, so check out the cultural requirements of whatever witch hazel you are considering. Also, many witch hazels are fragrant, but this one that grows wild here, not so much.

Chiot's Run October 21, 2009, 10:20 am

I’ll have to go look for a few of these, they’re beautiful.
.-= Chiot’s Run´s last blog ..Indian Summer =-.

Ellen Sousa October 20, 2009, 6:22 pm

I found your blog on blotanical and fav’ed it immediately! Thanks for the beautiful pics of the native witch hazel…they grow all over the place here in central MA (similar to yours, moist acidic woods in zone 5). It is always such a surprise to find their yellow flowers in December when everything else is long gone. I always wonder what kind of pollinators are still around and using the flowers for nectar….

Carol, May Dreams Gardens October 20, 2009, 6:05 pm

That is a pretty flower to find in the fall when the leaves are almost off the trees. I generally associate the bloom with late winter, but I think that’s H. vernalis that blooms then.
.-= Carol, May Dreams Gardens´s last blog ..Book Review: What’s Wrong With My Plant? =-.

Kathy Purdy October 20, 2009, 7:58 pm

H. vernalis and also the Asian hybrids like ‘Arnold’s Promise.’

TC October 20, 2009, 5:50 pm

“It’s been a long time in coming, but I think we finally have a witch hazel year equal to that memorable, almost mythic one.”

That sentence made me think y’all hadn’t walked yet. My bad.

Thanks for the advice.
.-= TC´s last blog ..An autumn tale: Fall. The end. =-.

Joseph Tychonievich October 20, 2009, 2:17 pm

So lovely! The woods I grew up in (And yes, I grew up in the woods, not the house. The house was just a place to stop for food and sleep) had tons of wild witchhazel. As a child the name seemed to mystical and the flowers so strange and magical that I always imagined the shrub having some supernatural powers.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter October 20, 2009, 1:22 pm

What a beautiful sight! Hammamelis virginiana also has romantic connotations for me, as the first time I’d seen one in bloom was when my husband & I were dating, and we were out walking in a nature preserve on our lunch hour.
.-= Mr. McGregor’s Daughter´s last blog ..I’ve Had Some Diem to Carpe =-.

Noelle (azplantlady) October 20, 2009, 1:20 pm


Thank you for featuring this plant. The flowers are so unusual. Too bad we cannot grow it but our soils are dry and alkaline.
.-= Noelle (azplantlady)´s last blog ..Time for Winter Flowers Yet ? =-.

TC October 20, 2009, 11:34 am

“Honey, are you up for a walk?”

What’d he say?? ;~)

I need to put a few of them in here. Any particular variety you recommend?
.-= TC´s last blog ..An autumn tale: Fall. The end. =-.

Kathy Purdy October 20, 2009, 12:33 pm

Obviously, since we have pictures, we went on the walk. Hamamelis virginiana is native here–planted itself–and I am not aware of any selections being sold commercially. But I believe you are further south, where Hamamelis vernalis is native, and there are cultivars of that. You might want to ask Gail over at Clay and Limestone for recommendations. She loves native plants and has a similar climate.