Witch hazels (hamamelis) are lovely shrubs with scented winter flowers and striking autumn leaf colour.
The best show is in winter when shaggy, spidery blooms appear down the length of the bare branches. Flower colours range from pale yellow through orange to strong reds – even some purple.
They do best in the ground, but you can grow them for a number of years in a container. At around £50
for a young plant, they are an investment and will take three or four years to be at their best, so make sure you know how to care for your plant so it's money well spent.
Which? Gardening magazine rated witch hazels to find the best for our gardens. To discover our recommendations, subscribe online to Which? Gardening or call 029 2267 0000.
Caption: Hamamelis, such as 'Jelena', make a wonderful addition to the garden for winter and autumn
When you choose your plant look for a good shape, as witch hazels are slow growing.
Planting in the ground
Witch hazels prefer neutral to slightly acid soil with good drainage. Keep young plants watered well during the summer to encourage root growth. Choose a spot that will have some winter sun and isn’t in too much shade, otherwise the plant will become leggy and won’t flower so well. A site near a path or doorway will allow you to appreciate the scent during the winter.
Planting in a pot
If you don't have neutral to acid soil, plant witch hazel in a pot. Choose a large pot. Use a Best Buy compost for patio pots mixed 50:50 with ericaceous compost and add controlled-release fertiliser or liquid feed during the growing season.
Caption: Growing witch hazels in a pot is a good idea if you don't have neutral or acid soil in your garden
Caring for your plants
Witch hazels generally don’t need pruning, but can become rather sprawling. Prune after the plant has flowered if you need to, cutting the previous season’s growth back to two growth buds.
Plants in the ground can be given a boost in spring by feeding with controlled-release fertiliser and mulching around their base.
Caption: Mulching will help to retain moisture in the soil and suppress weeds
Plants in a container need watering often in dry weather so the compost doesn’t dry out. Repot into a larger container if needed, or remove the top layer of compost each spring and replace with fresh compost mixed with controlled-release feed.
Witch hazels are often grafted on H. virginiana rootstock, so prune any suckers that spring from below the graft line. These produce smaller flowers and hold on to their autumn leaves for longer, so are easy to spot.
If the air is particularly clean where you live, lichen may grow on the branches, obscuring the flowers. Prune out affected branches or remove the lichen by hand.
Vine-weevil grubs can eat the roots of container-grown plants so use a nematode treatment in the spring to prevent damage.