Common name: witch hazel

Botanical name: Hamamelis xintermedia ‘Jelena’ makes a large-sized shrub, or small tree, capable of growing to more than 4 metres wide and tall.

Botanical family: Hamamelidacae (the witch hazel family)

Decorative features

Witch hazel first acquired its common name when early settlers to North America found its American species and were astounded to see flowers on bare branches in autumn and early spring... surely the work of witches!

Witch hazel has become much more popular as the quality it’s garden display is recognised more and there is much greater availability of plants. Initially, there was mostly the Chinese witch hazel, but more recently there has been a steady stream of new varieties, mostly hybrids between the Japanese and Chinese species.

‘Jelena’ was one of the first orange rusty coloured kinds. The flowers are carried in masses along the branches and makes a spectacular sight on a sunny day with a patch of blue sky above. The flowers appear before the leaves, when the branches are bare, a feature that sets off the flowers beautifully. The flowers are fragrant with a light distinctive sweet scent, released best on a warm day. Later in the year, there is the added bonus of good leaf colour, shades of yellow, orange and red.

Garden use

Witch hazel is a showstopper, a single plant that immediately dominates the space allocated to it, not by its size or its rapidity of growth, but by its elegance and soaring winglike branches. Plant hamamelis in a position of prominence where it can be seen and its lovely perfume appreciated. To enhance the soaring shape of the branches a little pruning may be necessary in its early years.

Site requirements

The witch hazel flowers in mid-winter, a time with few flowers. It is quite robust in terms of wind challenge also. But ensure to give a good 5m all round so as not to spoil its attractive shape when mature.

Soil requirements

Witch hazel likes well-drained, leafy, slightly acidic soil that does not dry out too much in summer. It can tolerate neutral soil and even some lime content if it is given a good mulch of leaf mould each year or two.

Plan ahead

There was a strong surge of interest in gardening during the first lockdown in the pandemic. The most useful advice to give to a new gardener is to plan ahead and get things done on time. There are key times for every garden operation and results are much better when things are done at the right time. It is often possible to catch up and get a reasonable result but best results almost always follow timeliness.

Although it is only late winter, it is time to start off seeds of early vegetable crops in the greenhouse or cold fame, sowing early cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, white turnip and early carrots. Greenhouse vegetables, such as tomatoes, chili peppers and sweet peppers, can be sown from seed during this month, though as early as possible, if you have some bright windowsill space indoors.

It will be time in a few weeks to plant out the earliest potatoes, sprouting them in a bright place first for a few weeks first. Fruit trees and bushes can be planted now and will establish better than if spring planted and old trees can be pruned in these weeks.

Compost can be spread on vegetable ground and digging carried out during dry weather. This is a good time to plan vegetable growing and to purchase vegetable seeds for spring sowing, especially if you want to try some new or unusual kinds.

This week’s reminders

Trees, shrubs and roses

It is a good time to plant hedges because the planting season for deciduous bare-root trees has begun. Do not plant until spring in windy areas where the young plants might be wind-rocked. Small trees can be planted as ‘whips’ for shelter belts and small blocks of woodland.

Fruit and vegetables

The vegetable area can be dug over if the ground is not too wet, or at least have weeds controlled. Tidy away all old crops that might carry over pests or diseases to the spring. Fruit trees and bushes of all kinds can be planted, after good soil preparation.


There is still time to plant a few spring bedding plants and even some bulbs in pots. Many garden centres clear the last of the bulbs, or offer some kinds potted up. Overgrown perennial flowers can be lifted and divided, and get rid of weeds at the same time.


Lawn mosskillers can still be applied especially in shady areas – sulphate of iron will blacken the grass for a time. Mowing will have finished for the year in most cases, but if there is a dry spell, and the ground is not soggy, the opportunity should be taken to mow the grass.

Greenhouse and house plants

Make the first sowings of seeds in the greenhouse: early cabbage, cauliflower, carrots and tomato and chili pepper seeds. House plants should not be left standing in water and should be getting reasonably good light. Watering in the greenhouse should be at a minimum.