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Hamamelis x intermedia

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Common name: Hybrid witchhazel
Plant type: Flowering shrub
Flower color: Yellow, bronze, or red
Bloom period: January-April
Fragrance: Fresh and spicy
Height: 6-15 feet high x 4-10 feet wide
Hardiness: USDA Zones 5b-9a
Light needs: Half to full sun
Moisture needs: Average to moist, but well-drained
Seasonal character: Bright fragrant flowers from winter into early spring

The best thing about late January is that hybrid witchhazels begin blooming in many parts of the world. Here in Paris, they've been flowering since the second week of the month. But even when I lived in Indiana, these wondrous shrubs often popped their blossoms beginning around the end of January.

If it seems miraculous that a shrub could flower in an area of the country that has average minimum winter temperatures of -10 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, it is! But the wise witchhazel has a special adaptation to cold: while a sunny day above even slightly above freezing will pop the flowerbuds open, a sudden chill will cause the petals to roll up for protection. Then, at the slightest hint of warmth, they unfurl again, just like those paper favors kids like to blow on at birthday parties.

The flowers of hybrid witchhazels (all crosses of Hamamelis mollis, the Chinese witchhazel, and H. japonica, the Japanese witchhazel) are much larger than those of our native species. Their four petals are narrow and strap-like: about an inch long and only about one-tenth of an inch wide. They are slightly wavy and kinked. And although the flower may not sound like much, you can see from the photos that, because they're borne in clusters of two to four, they add up to quite a show--especially in January and February! Their color varies from sulfur yellow (in the varieties 'Pallida' and 'Primavera') to brilliant lemon yellow (in 'Arnold Promise' and 'Sunburst') to bronze ('Jelena', pictured below) to red ('Diana'). The color of the yellow petals usually intensifies to red at the center of the flowers.

Hybrid witchhazel has an intoxicating fragrance that intensifies when you cut a branch to bring inside. A difficult scent to describe, it always reminds me of the smell of fresh laundry drying in a sunny wind, with undertones of spice and vetiver. Like most winter-flowering plants, hybrid witchhazel depends on intense fragrance to attract the few bees and other pollinators that are stirring at that early time of the year.

In addition to its spectacular early flowering show, which often lasts all the way into the beginning of April thanks to the cool temperatures, hybrid witchhazels also have beautiful fall foliage color, ranging from warm gold to orange to deep purple-red.

Hybrid witchhazel is a large shrub with a form that varies from open and vase-shaped in part shade or in colder regions to spreading and full in sun and in the warmer parts of its range. Give it room to grow, as otherwise it needs essentially no pruning. The only thing to watch out for is that, being a grafted plant, it can send up rootstock suckers, much like those of a grafted rose. These may be hard to identify at first. If you see shoots coming up from the ground at the base of the plant, examine them carefully. If the branch is noticeably straighter--less zigzagged--between the bud nodes than the rest of the shrub, cut it off promptly at below ground level if possible. Unremoved rootstock suckers will take over the plant, causing the grafted variety to die off.

Hybrid witchhazel is ideal for the organic gardener because it has essentially no disease or insect problems. Give it moist, well-drained, slightly acid soil, and it will reward you with effortless decades of brilliant winter flowers, sweet perfume, and flaming fall foliage.

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Cimicifuga simplex 'The Pearl'

Corylopsis glabra

Erysimum cheirii, E. allionii and hybrids

Euonymus europaeus

Hamamelis virginiana

Jasminum nudiflorum

Lonicera fragrantissima

Nepeta sibirica 'Souvenir d'Andr Chaudon'

Parrotia persica

Pulsatilla vulgaris (formerly Anemone pulsatilla)

Rosa x multiflora 'Ghislaine de Felighonde'

Sarcococca ruscifolia

Agastache rupestris

Alchemilla mollis

Anchusa azurea

Buddleia alternifolia

Calamintha grandiflora

Colchicum species

Helianthella quinquenervis

Helleborus niger

Hibiscus syriacus 'Bluebird'

Lespedeza thunbergii

Rosa x 'Gloire de Dijon'

Solidago rugosa

Tilia x europaea
Plants In Profile
Having a collector's mentality in my plant passion, I've had to learn how to make the best garden choices for myself and others. Here are my very favorite plants--some old, some new--but all plants that earn their place in any garden. Included are the latest and greatest plant introductions from France and the rest of Europe eminently suitable for New World gardens. Barbara Wilde
   
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