Wonderful winter Witch hazelAlison Marsden
Whatever the rest of the year has been like November is definitely late autumn going into winter and this can be a dull time in the garden. Many trees and shrubs turned autumnal early this year prompted by the stress of a dry summer but you can usually count on brightly coloured foliage through October. Once leaves have fallen we rely mainly on structural evergreens but there are a few winter flowering shrubs that can provide welcome flower power until early spring revives the garden. This month I am focusing on a versatile plant that can be grown as a small single stemmed tree or a vase shaped multi-stem shrub and offers both great autumn colour and bright, scented winter flowers. Witch hazel – botanical name Hamamelis – are completely hardy easily withstanding the lowest UK winter temperatures but do suffer if the soil is waterlogged in winter. So if, like me, your garden is on clay then improving the soil before planting with plenty of well-rotted organic matter and mulching with the same is a must.
The most commonly grown in gardens and most widely available form is Hamamelis x intermedia and there are many named varieties with different flower colour, scent and some that are smaller or more spreading so choose carefully – trees and shrubs are a long term investment. Witch hazels can be pruned to restrict the size and if you need to prune then immediately after flowering is the time. But generally they are elegant, architectural plants that benefit from a little tweaking rather than regular hard pruning. If you do not have the space to allow the natural 3m x 3m growth then keeping the main stem(s) clear of side shoots to a height of a metre or so lets in light and allows you to plant underneath with spring and summer flowering plants.
Like many winter flowering shrubs Witch hazel flowers are scented, attracting the few flying insects around in cold weather. Choose a spot where you regularly pass by in winter to get the benefit too; in the front garden is often a good spot to cheer up the gloomiest winter’s day!
Happy Gardening from Alison
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