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Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Yard & Garden Planning

Witch Hazels (page 4 of 4)

by Michael A. Dirr

Vernal Witch Hazel

Vernal witch hazel (H. vernalis); zones 4 through 8; 6 to 10 feet. Durable plant for the East, Midwest, and upper South. Effective in groupings near large buildings and also makes a good screen or unpruned hedge. This plant's most unusual feature is its early flower date: late December or early January in zone 7, early March in zone 5. Plant is multistemmed, dense, and rounded. Overall, the look is neat, but form is variable. It can also send up shoots from the roots, forming large colonies.

Pungently fragrant yellow-orange to red flowers come in clusters of three or four. Each flower is 1/2 to 3/4 inch across, and petals are about 1/2 inch long. On the downside, the plant may still be holding onto dead leaves when the flowers come, which will diminish the display.

Leaves are 2 to 5 inches long and medium to dark green. Fall color develops late, lasts for two to three weeks, and is often outstanding. It is consistently brilliant yellow in zones 4 through 8, reason enough to grow the plant.

'Autumn Embers'. At its best, produces excellent red-purple fall color, but it's inconsistent in my garden. Orangish flowers. Best in zones 4 and 5.

'Sandra'. Yellow-orange flowers and fiery orange-red fall color, particularly in zones 4 through 6.

Common Witch Hazel

Common witch hazel (H. virginiana); zones 3 through 9; 20 to 30 feet with a 15- to 20-foot spread. Witch hazel extract is distilled from the roots and bark of young stems. This North American native grows throughout the woods in most of the eastern U.S. and is a good shrub border candidate, though it may be too large for the average residential garden. Compared to the Asian witch hazels, it is hardier, more vigorous, and more tolerant of pruning. It makes a wonderful display, especially in fall when leaves turn yellow and the flowers' fragrance permeates the cool autumn air.

Leaves are 3 to 6 inches long, 2- to 3-1/2-inches wide, and medium to dark green. Fragrant yellow flowers, composed of four straplike but crumpled petals, emerge as early as October and as late as early December, the same time leaves change. Flowers last two to four weeks, depending mostly on weather.

Michael A. Dirr, professor of horticulture at the Universtiy of Georgia, Athens, is the author of the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants (Stipes Publishing, 1998; $50).

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