Intriguing Witch Hazel

Sunday, February 28th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant strawberries now for delicious strawberry shortcake this summer.
    • Roses should be pruned if you haven’t done so already. Remove all old leaves on and around the bushes and spray with Neem oil to prevent early pest and disease problems.
    • Blueberries make delicious fruit on attractive plants that you can use in the orchard or the landscape. Choose varieties now.
    • Bare root fruit trees are now available. Choose one tree or a whole orchard and get them planted while the weather is good for digging.

Winter-blooming Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is a must-have shrub for fragrance and color in the winter garden. At a time when few plants are blooming, witch hazel adds sparkle to the landscape with its unusual, spidery flowers.

This North American native is very hardy, and can be grown as a single or multi-stemmed shrub. It is vase-shaped, growing 8 to 10 feet tall and spreading about 8 feet wide.

New branches are slightly fuzzy and brown, turning silver-grey as they age. Coppery new growth in spring and attractive gold fall color rounds out this shrub’s seasonal interest.

Witch hazel, Hamamelis vernalis, grow in full sun or partial shade, and, although they can be grown in all kinds of soil, they prefer moist, well-drained conditions. Little pruning is required except to tidy their shape by removing unruly branches during flowering.

The name witch hazel probably originated from the early settlers’ practice of using the plant’s forked branches for water divining and to make brooms. Hazel refers to the similarities between witch hazel and the true hazelnut trees.

Several named varieties are best known in nurseries. ‘Arnold Promise’ has clear yellow, fragrant flowers with petals that look like tiny party streamers. ‘Diane’ is one of the most brilliant varieties with bright red flowers. ‘Jelena’ has coppery-orange flowers and brilliant red fall color. They bloom from late February to March.

Witch hazel can be planted in a mixed shrub border or used for height in the back of a perennial border. It is great as a transitional plant between tended gardens and wilder natural areas. While this plant is not deer resistant, it has evolved along side deer and browsing won’t harm the plant, but can actually create a fuller shrub. Young plants may need to be protected.

Consider planting witch hazel where you can enjoy the fragrance mid-winter, such as in an entry garden or near a path or patio. Plant it with hazelnut, blueberry, huckleberry and hellebores for interest throughout the winter.

Witch hazel extract, taken from the leaves, twigs and bark, is used medicinally. It has been used for centuries to treat skin ailments. It is still a common ingredient in soaps, face washes and shampoos.

Check out this unusual, low-maintenance shrub now, when you can see their unique flowers.

Fall Color in the Garden

Friday, October 31st, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    • Ornamental cabbage makes a dramatic planting in flower beds over the winter.
    • Crocus and daffodils announce the arrival of spring if you plant them now. Choose from a variety of colors and bi-colors available now.
    • Cover small ponds with netting or shade cloth to catch falling leaves so they don’t rot in the pond.
    • Naked lady amaryllis have lovely, fragrant pink flowers that bloom in late summer with little or no care. Plant the bulbs, available at local nurseries, now.

Fall Color in the Garden

Though many plants pass into winter rather quietly, there are a number of shrubs that end their growing season with a flash of bright colors. Reds, yellows and oranges usher out the last warm days with a cheery farewell.

Japanese barberry is an attractive, red-leaved shrub whose foliage displays a festival of colors before dropping. The leaves turn to yellow, orange and red all on the same plant. It also has bright red berries.

Burning bush is a real eye-catcher. Also known as winged Euonymus, it is a dense, green background shrub that suddenly turns bright red in the fall.

Japanese rose, Kerria japonica, is a graceful large shrub with flowers like small yellow roses in the spring and summer. In autumn, the bright green leaves turn to golden yellow before they fall.

Crape myrtle is well-known for its papery pink, purple or red flowers in the summer. It is also pretty in the fall when the leaves change to yellow, orange and red before they drop.

Heavenly bamboo, Nandina, is a good-looking shrub year-round. In the spring it puts on a lovely display of white flowers that produce berries which turn bright red in the fall. The leaves also take on a reddish hue and both berries and leaves hang on through the winter.

Spiraeas are a large family of shrubs with tiny flowers in clusters. The spring-blooming varieties, like ‘Bridal Wreath’, have long arching branches covered with delicate white flowers. In the fall they are again colorful as the dark green leaves turn to a rich red.

Snowball bush also has lovely fall foliage. This handsome bush is covered with clusters of white flowers that look like snowballs in the spring. In the fall, its leaves become flushed with rosy red before they drop.

Witch hazel is an uncommon shrub in this area, but it has several desirable features. They bloom very early, in February, with spidery red or yellow flowers that have a spicy fragrance. In fall the leaves turn golden on most varieties. ‘Diane’ shows a particularly fine red fall color.

Blueberry bushes are an ornamental and fruiting shrub that can serve a dual purpose in the landscape. Fall foliage on blueberry plants will usually be a bright orange or red color. Blueberry shrubs need acidic, moist soil and do well planted with Camellias or Azaleas as they share similar soil requirements.

One of the prettiest perennials in the fall is Hardy Plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides. It grows 8-12 inches tall, spreading to 18 inches wide with intense blue flowers in late summer and fall. Its foliage turns bright red, even while the blue blossoms persist.

Probably the most brilliant red, besides poison oak, comes from Virginia creeper and Boston ivy. These deciduous vines turn a brilliant scarlet when the weather starts to cool. Clinging to a fence, they make a spectacular backdrop to any garden.

Don’t let your garden have the fall blues. Dress it up with the bright reds and yellows of these shrubs and vines.