119 Concord Place
Syracuse, New York
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`Endless Summer' Bigleaf Hydrangea

Oakleaf Hydrangea

'Gro-low' Fragrant Sumac

`Frau Dagmar Hastrup' Rugosa Rose


"Garden Journeys" Video Feature

Christmas Rose, Snowdrops & Witchhazel

Recommended Shrubs -


Oftentimes the pale yellow flowers of our native witchhazel are hidden by fall foliage.I recall the first time a witchhazel caught my eye. It was during a drive through the F.R. Newman Arboretum in Ithaca when I noticed a subtle yellow blur out in one of the lawn areas. Curious, for a reason that will become obvious in a moment, I got out of my car - yes, after parking it - and walked up to the plant.

What I discovered was a medium-sized shrub covered with small, pale yellow flowers in late October, at right. That's right, late October!

Not only did I find it bizarre that a shrub was blooming so late in the year, I was also struck by how odd the spider-like, four-petaled flowers looked!

Compared to both our native witchhazel and the Asian hybrids, the flowers of vernal witchhazel are underwhelming.Well, I was immediately hooked (lined and sinkered, too)! The tag hanging from a branch identified the plant as Eastern Witchhazel, Hamamelis virginiana (that's a great thing about arboreta and botanical gardens - the plants are usually labeled and properly identified), and I was immediately off to learn more about this plant.

What I quickly discovered was that this plant isn't confined to botanical gardens. Rather, it's a relatively common multiple-stemmed medium to large shrub or small tree (fifteen to twenty-five feet tall and wide) in woodlands throughout the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada - including Central New York. In fact, it's easy to find all over Green Lakes State Park, Baltimore Woods and many other public and private woodlots and forests!

I also learned that in addition to our native, fall-blooming witchhazel, there are several winter (yes, winter) through early spring-blooming species and/or hybrids that can thrive in Central New York landscapes, too!

The copper-colored flowers of Jelena witchhazel open in late January in our backyard garden!Vernal witchhazel, Hamamelis vernalis (at left, above), for example, is native throughout the lower Mississippi River valley from Missouri to Louisiana, yet grows well here. In fact, there's one growing in the median that runs down the middle of Concord Place not a hundred yards from our home. I have to say that I'm not very impressed with this species as the specimens I've seen over the years have very small, brownish-yellow to reddish-yellow flowers that open between late February through early April. Also, the fall foliage color tends to be a pretty bland yellow.

Purples, reds, yellow and orange can often be found a single leaf of witchhazels in the fall!While I'm not crazy about Vernal witchhazel, many of the hybrids resulting from crosses between the Japanese witchhazel, Hamamelis japonica, and Chinese witchhazel, Hamamelis mollis, are absolutely outstanding! As a group, they're presented as cultivated varieties (cultivars) of Hamamelis x. intermedia.

My long-time favorite is coppery-flowered `Jelena,' above at right. In our backyard, it blooms pretty reliably right around the end of . . . . . . are you ready for this, January - and remains effective for two to three weeks! Then, in mid-autumn its leaves turn a dramatic combination of reds, yellows, and orange, above at left!

Diane witchhazel has mostly reddish flower petals.More typically, the red-flowering `Diane,' at right, and the relatively commonly available, yellow-flowering `Arnold's Promise,' below at left, bloom from about the middle of March through early April - a solid month before forsythia! As with `Jelena,' their fall leaf color ranges pretty reliably from red to orange-yellow.

Arnold's Promise is one of the most readily available late winter-blooming hybrid witchazel cultivars.Because crosses between the Japanese and Chinese witchhazels produce good quantities of viable seed, several dozen named H. x. intermedia hybrids have been introduced sine the late 1940's, many by the Kalmthout Arboretum in Belgium. Most of these multiple-stemmed selections will be ten to fifteen feet tall and wide at maturity and their flower color will range from carmine red through bright yellow. The flowers of some varieties, such as `Arnold's Promise,' also have a light fragrance in some years.

Diane, forground, and Arnold's Promise, background, in full bloom along Ike Dixon road in Camillus in early March.As a group, Hamamelis x. intermedia hybrids prefer evenly moist, well-drained soils and protection from sweeping winter winds. And, while they'll flower most heavily in full sun, they do relatively well even in spots where they receive only four to six hours of full sun.

Other than their slightly demanding need for good site conditions, the only other limitation is that deer will browse their tender stems throughout the year in neighborhoods where other sources of food are scarce.

So, if you want to have something blooming at least some of the time between October through early April, witchhazels may be worth a look?