Planting witch hazel: expert instructions for planting


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With bright colours witch hazel heralds the garden year. But when is the right time to plant the beautiful woody plant in your own garden? Learn all about planting witch hazel in this article.

flowering hamamelis pallida tree
In temperate regions, the Pallida witch hazel flowers as early as Christmas [Photo: Del Boy/]

Witch hazel (Hamamelis) is a genus of the witch hazel family (Hamamelidaceae), which includes only five species worldwide. Hybrid forms from the two Asian species, Hamamelis × intermedia, offer an incredible variance in flower colours from green, yellow, orange to red. This colourful sea of flowers will break up the dreary winter landscape of your garden from December through March. Despite its delicate flowers and brightly coloured autumn foliage, witch hazel is a very undemanding plant in terms of care. However, the lack of requirements in terms of care are made up for in terms of planting, because here long-term planning is required. We will show you what to consider when planting to make this elegant plant feel right at home in your garden.

Witch hazel: when to plant?

The best time to plant a witch hazel is in the autumn before the first frost. This means that fine root hairs can form in winter (as long as there is no frost). These are important for water and nutrient uptake and anchor the plant in its new location. If you purchased it in a container, it can also be planted in the spring after the last frost. Container plants generally require less attention when planting, because the plants grow much better.

snow on witch hazel flowers
Witch hazel flowers have a unique shape and a strong fragrance [Photo: Shutterschock/]

Planting witch hazel: choosing the right location

Witch hazel not only grows slowly, the root formation also takes time. It takes a good two to three years for the plants to take root properly. Only then is there the first visible growth spurt. In addition, from this time on a change of location is not well tolerated. Therefore, think carefully about whether your witch hazel can stay in its location for the long term. The following should be noted:

  • Habitat: sun to light shade, preferably protected
  • Soil: loose, deep, well-drained, fresh to slightly moist, very humus-rich
  • Height of growth: 2 – 4 metres
  • Crown diameter: 4 – 5 metres
  • Very low competition root system
red witch hazel flowers in spring
Witch hazel is one of the garden’s earliest flowering shrubs [Photo: R. Maximiliane/]

To escape the cold of winter, the flowers curl up in frost and unfurl again in warmer temperatures. As a result, temperatures of up to -10 °C are survived without damage. However, if the temperatures are too cold, the flowers may also be delayed or even fail to appear. It is therefore important to position the otherwise very hardy plant so that it is protected from harsh easterly winds. It is even more important to pay attention to the characteristics of the soil, not only because transplanting should be avoided as far as possible, but also because the shrub is very sensitive to drought, compaction and waterlogging.

Witch hazel companion planting: Ideal bed partners for witch hazel

When choosing green neighbours, keep in mind that the roots of witch hazel are easily overtaken by stronger ones. Therefore, after planting, refrain from using perennials or ground covers as underplanting, because they quickly deprive the witch hazel of water. If you want to add some colour accents under your witch hazel until it takes root, you can place small bulb flowers such as winter windflower (Anemone blanda), grape hyacinth (Muscari botryoides) or snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis). Once a few years have passed, the roots should be well enough developed to be able to tolerate other plants on a larger scale. But even with established witch hazel, you need to pay attention to the compatibility of the neighbouring greenery. Compatible groundcovers include lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor) and Siberian waldsteinia (Waldsteinia ternata) or early bloomers such as winter aconite (Eranthis) and early crocus (Crocus tommasinianus). Lungworts (Pulmonaria) and sweeet violets (Viola odorata) also tend to be low in competition, making them good bedding partners.

snowdrops and crocus under witch hazel
Snowdrops and crocuses are suitable companion plants for witch hazel [Photo: R. Maximiliane/]

Note: The flowers provide the first food sources for bees and bumblebees in the otherwise barren environment. Therefore, witch hazel is an ideal planting for bee pastures. Our top 10 bee-friendly plants can be found here.

Planting witch hazel: step-by-step

Witch hazel should feel comfortable in its location for as long as possible. There is a lot to consider even before planting. Therefore, good preparation of the soil is an absolute must for the otherwise undemanding plants. In this way, you give the plants that are weak in competition an optimal environment to take root. When planting a bare-root witch hazel, the roots must be soaked in water for about an hour immediately beforehand. After that, the roots are carefully loosened and separated. With container plants, these preparatory steps are not required. Here you can go straight to planting.

hamamelis growing in Y shape
Witch hazel typically grows in a funnel shape [Photo: Peter Turner Photography/]

For adequate nutrient supply, you should enrich the excavated soil with which the plant will later be covered with nutrients. Our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food is ideal for this purpose. If the soil at the desired location is particularly poor, you can also go straight to a high-quality and nutrient-rich organic soil such as our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost.

All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
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  • Perfect for a variety of plants in the garden & on the balcony
  • Promotes healthy plant growth & an active soil life
  • Long-lasting fertiliser that is free from animal products - child & pet friendly

Planting witch hazel at a glance:

  • Loosen soil well
  • Planting hole about twice the size of the root ball
  • Enrich excavated soil with compost or slow-release fertiliser and loosen well again
  • Put plant straight into the planting hole
  • Plant only so deep that the root ball is still visible on the surface
  • Fill the planting hole with prepared soil
  • Cover root area with bark mulch
  • Do not work the soil after planting

Freshly planted witch hazel can be cut back a little. Find out what you need to consider when pruning witch hazel here.

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