Witch hazel casts its spell

Witch hazel casts its spell

By Lidia Boque Gousgouni
16 Aug 2017
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Witch hazels will grow in most gardens, and with the right conditions and care they will flourish.  

The gardens at Wodonga TAFE boast countless species of plants, and one is Hamamelis, the witch hazel. There are two examples of witch hazel on the TAFE campus – Hamamelis x intermedia 'Pallida' and the beautiful Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Pallida' is one of the most popular witch hazels. The winter profusion of yellowish flowers produces a sweet perfume which is welcome in the winter garden. Growing to about three metres high and four metres wide, this plant naturally grows to a vase shape.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ was created by the Belgian botanist Robert de Belder and while not as perfumed as other examples of witch hazel, this variety produces vibrant and spectacular coppery-orange flowers.

Witch hazels like an open, sunny position, and will tolerate partial shade, but keep them out of heavy shade. They also dislike windy positions.  

The soil needs to be well-drained and they love the addition of compost or well-rotted manure. Slightly acidic soil is best, so if you want to grow the witch hazel, maybe invest in a pH test kit and be prepared to play with your soil until you get it right.  

Witch hazels are deciduous shrubs. They will give some autumn colour before the leaves fall and then the fragrant flowers are produced on bare branches in late winter through to early spring.  This is the allure of the Hamamelis - perfumed flowers prominently displayed in the dark of winter are just beautiful.

During summer it’s important to keep water up to Hamamelis and watch out for dry periods throughout the year. Allowing your plants to dry out for too long could affect your winter flowering display.

Witch hazels can get quite large, but I feel it’s important that you give them space to grow to their full size.  Pruning should be kept to the barest minimum – only take out dead or damaged wood, crossing branches or weak stems.  

If you must reduce the size of your plant, only prune after flowering and cut back to the previous season’s growth. Witch hazels are usually grafted, so look for suckers during the autumn and remove them as low as you can.

Branches from Hamamelis were the wood of choice used for water-divining, but whatever other uses it has, this is beautiful plant flowers in winter, making it very special.

Diary

Kitchen Gardening course - Wodonga TAFE three, half-days October 9, 16 and 23; 9.30-12.30. $250. Call 1300 MY TAFE (1300 698 233).