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Witch Hazel

With its fragrant and colorful blossoms (ranging from red to yellow), witch hazel is quickly gaining popularity in winter landscapes all across North America.

Want a tree or shrub that will dazzle you in the middle of winter? With its fragrant and colorful blossoms (ranging from red to yellow), witch hazel is quickly gaining popularity in winter landscapes all across North America.

This variety, Hamamelis vernalis, is unique for its pendulous weeping habit. Pruning vertical shoots is crucial to maintaining its weeping form.

According to Egan Davis of the Van Dussen Botanical Gardens in Vancouver, B.C., witch hazel can flower at a time of the year when nothing else is blooming – anytime from December up until March, depending on what kind of season you have. Even better, they don’t require special feeding or fertilizer and they’ll grow in almost any soil.

Cut suckers close to the ground so that stubs left behind won’t produce new suckers.

Keeping Witch Hazel in Shape

Although witch hazel is fairly low maintenance overall, the trees require regular pruning in order to maintain their horizontal growth habit, says Egan. "When you are pruning them, it’s important that when you make your cut, you keep in mind that the line you leave is long and straight."

It’s also a good idea to keep suckers – nonflowering twigs coming from the root stock – in check. Summer is the best time to remove suckers, which are often a different color from the main shrub. Cut suckers close to the ground so that stubs left behind won’t produce new suckers.

Transplanting Witch Hazel

Witch hazel can grow quite large so try to site it in a space where it will have plenty of room. If you need to transplant, Egan recommends following these steps:

Figure A

  1. First clear any leaf debris from around the base of the tree and cut around the root ball with a spade (figure A). "What I want is for the root ball to be completely separated form the ground before I go in and lift it." Eventually the tree will topple.

  • Bundle the root ball with burlap; this will keep the ball stable and secure for the move.

  • Figure B

  • Use a shovel placed under the root ball to pull the tree to its new location (figure B). Place the witch hazel tree, with the burlap still in place, into the new planting hole. "You could actually damage the root ball if you remove the burlap, so don’t worry about that," says Egan.

  • Figure C

    When situating the tree, make sure the root ball is slightly above the surrounding surface grade of the soil and not buried too deep (figure C). For a little added winter protection, cover the base with leaf mulch, and you’re done.

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