By Wayne Hutchins
One group of plants that have nice flowers of various colors and can withstand temperatures down to 0º F are the winter flowering Witch Hazels (Hamamelis spp., and hybrids). The only species of this group native to the eastern United States is Hamamelis virginiana. This plant is native to the mountains and piedmont of North Carolina, and many other states east of the Mississippi River. The bloom time for this species is in November, about the same time as the yellow colored foliage (leaves) fall to the ground. The flowers are strap shaped, sulfur yellow in color and have some fragrance. Plants can grow to 30 feet plus in heights and are long-lived woody plants. A Witch Hazel in my own garden is 30 ft. plus and is at least 60 years old.
The hybrids developed from species of European origin that have been introduced into the U.S. in the last 25 years are available from various nurseries in the U.S. Almost all of the hybrids are grafted onto rootstocks of wild species to give the hybrids added vigor. I have in my garden seven different hybrids of various colors and sizes.
My favorite hybrid is “Arnold Promise” which comes from the Arnold Arboretum in Massachusetts. The plant is vase shaped standing at 15ft + after fifteen years of growth. The flower color is lemon yellow, the scent is sweet and strong. It flowers in February.
Another hybrid that grows very well is “Jelena” which is more spreading than most winter witch hazels. My plant after 15 years is 12 ft. high and15 ft. across. Flower color is a warm coppery orange and it flowers in January.
“Diane” is the best red-flowered cultivar available at present. It has a vase shaped form with a height of 20 ft. Diane flowers in February.
The hybrids listed above grow well in western North Carolina. Many nurseries do not carry winter witch hazels because they are grafted which results in the cost of the plants being more expensive than many other plants. These are great plants to enjoy their blooms throughout the winter months and early spring.