American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is native to North America growing from Canada to Georgia westward often to Kansas and Louisiana. It does well in hardiness zones 3 through 8. This species is a flowering, deciduous shrub and blooms very late in the season, usually flowering between October and December. Depending on local conditions, this blooming time may be pushed further into the new year. It provides a distinctive fragrant, yellow flower. It grows to approximately 15 to 20 feet tall and needs a drip area of approximately 20 feet. The oval to obovate leaves are approximately 6 inches long and have a dentate margin. These leaves turn a bright yellow in the autumn.
Witch hazel is in the Hamamelidaceae family, being closely related to the sweet gum tree which we also have in the Chattanooga area.
This species needs full sun but will do well in partial shade requiring at least 4 hours of direct sun each day. It also needs medium well-drained soil. This species is rather easy to grow, especially here in the Chattanooga area.
Witch hazel is found in woodland areas often near streams. Witch hazel has no major disease or insect problems; however, insect galls are sometimes found on the leaves. Japanese beetles are known to chew the leaves.
Written by Matt Whitaker
H. virginiana falls in the small tree/large shrub category and is tolerant of a variety of landscape conditions (sun/shade and medium moist soils), however, dry soils should be avoided. Most landscape plantings will not exceed 15-feet and in full sun this species tends to send up multiple leaders to form a dense clump. It can be used as a specimen, in a natural grouping, or hedge with spacing as tight at 3-4-feet on center. Fall color is variable but it tends to be a rich yellow and hold amber/brown leaves through winter to provide moderate screening. Its rapid growth, hardy nature, and screening abilities make it an excellent candidate to replace the short list of ubiquitous, finicky, and problematic evergreens that are overused such as the non-native Leyland Cypress that loses its lower limbs/screening abilities in 5 years. An extract from the young twigs and roots of this species is used for a variety of medicinal properties including anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and as an astringent. This plant is deer resistant.
The genus name means “together with fruit” and, as such, is the only tree or shrub in North America which is found at times of the year with not only the flower on the stem but also next year’s bud as well as this year’s fruit.
Charlie is a retired professor and Biological Oceanographer. He taught five courses in the University of Georgia System for many years from his home base in Savannah, Georgia.
Charlie loves hiking at Reflection Riding, teaching children about the ecology of the area, and interacting with the Reflection Riding staff. They are GREAT!