How to Grow and Care for Buttercup Winter Hazel

Buttercup winter hazel shrub with long extending branches with small pale yellow flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Buttercup winter hazel is a medium-sized deciduous shrub in the witch hazel family, native to Japan. It usually grows no higher than about 6 feet tall with a multi-stem, spreading growth habit, and is a good landscape specimen for moderate climates (zones 6 to 8). The foliage is not particularly spectacular in the spring and summer, though it does provide excellent nesting habitat for birds and small mammals. It is in the fall and winter that the species truly shines.

In the fall the leaves turn bright fiery yellow that shed to make way for ghostly gray branches that, for a short time, exhibit no sign of life at all. That is when the show begins. In late winter, new growth starts to develop along the branches in the form of reddish flower buds. Soon, these burst open and reveal a pendulous cluster of fragrant buttercup-colored flowers that linger for a few weeks to a few months, depending on the weather. 

Buttercup winter hazel is normally planted as a nursery container plant in spring or fall. It has a slow growth rate and can take as much as 10 years to reach its full size.

Common Name  Buttercup winter hazel, winter hazel
Botanical Name  Corylopsis pauciflora
Family Hamamelidaceae
Plant Type Deciduous shrub
Mature Size 4–6 ft. tall and wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Rich, medium-moisture, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic (less than 6.0)
Bloom Time Late winter to early spring
Flower Color Pale yellow
Hardiness Zone 6–8 (USDA)
Native Range Eastern Asia (Japan, Taiwan)

Winter Hazel Care

Winter which hazel will grow readily in rich, moist, well-drained soil and a full sun to partial shade location, but it insists on a fairly acidic pH. It's a good idea to have the soil analyzed before planting and follow the report's recommendations for amendments needed to create the proper pH. At the northern end of the hardiness range, a more sheltered location will ensure winter survival. It can be borderline hardy in zone 6.

The planting technique for a buttercup winter hazel is typical for any shrub or tree. Dig a hole wider and deeper than the root ball. Add compost to the hole, then place the plant so that the root ball is even with the soil line. Fill in the hole with a mix of compost, the soil you removed, a few heaping handfuls of perlite, and then cover with mulch to the drip line.  You will want to water your plant weekly, deeply, and thoroughly for the first growing season. Once a buttercup winter hazel shrub is established, enjoy the hope it instills every year with the beautiful smells it unleashes into the crisp winter air.

Buttercup winter hazel shrub with long branches and small yellow flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Buttercup winter hazel thin branches with small yellow flowers closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Buttercup winter hazel flowers with pale yellow petals hanging off branches closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova


This shrub will do well in a full sun to partial shade location, though more sun generally means more blossoms.


The ideal soil for buttercup winter hazel is acidic, light, organically rich, and well-drained, It does not tolerate heavy, compact clay soil.


In the first year, make sure to water weekly (1 inch or so). Once established, watering a buttercup winter hazel can be left to nature unless you live in an especially dry area, or you are experiencing a drought. 

Temperature and Humidity

Buttercup winter hazel is considered hardy in USDA hardiness zones 6 to 8, but its hardiness can be questionable in the northern end of this range. Zone 6 gardeners are well advised to give it a sheltered location, as the flower buds can be damaged from early spring frosts. The shrub does equally well in dry and humid atmospheric conditions, provided soil moisture is adequate.


Yearly feeding can help with flower production. Buttercup winter hazel prefers acidic soils, so testing the soil pH yearly to see what fertilizer will be most beneficial should be a priority. An acidifying fertilizer, such as a formulation intended for azaleas, is often a good solution.

Types of Winter Hazel

There are no additional named cultivars of buttercup winter hazel (Corylopsis pauciflora), but there are two other species in the Corylopsis genus that are sometimes used in landscaping:

  • Corylopsis sinensis ( Chinese winter hazel) is a much larger shrub, growing to as much as 15 feet tall. It has a better tolerance for neutral and acidic soils.
  • Corylopsis spicata (spike winter hazel) is slightly larger than buttercup winter hazel, at 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. It is a hardier plant than buttercup winter hazel, reliable into zone 5.


Buttercup winter hazel is a somewhat weak, brittle shrub and it may require regular light pruning to remove damaged branches, which are especially likely after heavy winter snows. Even strong winds can easily snap branches. Other than this, the shrub requires little pruning, as it is generally more attractive in its natural growth habit.

If you do need to perform major pruning, it should be done immediately after the shrub has flowered, as next year's blooms will depend on the old wood grown after the blossoms fade. Pruning too late will reduce the number of flowers the following winter and spring.

Propagating Buttercup Winter Hazel

Propagation of this shrub is usually done by rooting semi-hardwood cuttings, but it can be a slow process with these slow-growing plants. Here's how to do it:

  1. In summer after flowering is complete, use sharp pruners to clip 6- to 8-inch cuttings from the tip of growing stems. The tip of the cutting should be green and flexible, the base firm and woody. Remove the leaves from the bottom 2 inches of the cutting
  2. Make a slit in the bottom of the cutting up about 1/2 inch from the end, using a sharp knife. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone, then plant in a small pot filled with commercial potting mix.
  3. Place the cutting in a loosely secured plastic bag to hold in moisture, then place the pot in a spot with bright, indirect light. Check the cutting regularly to make sure the potting mix remains damp.
  4. When the cutting has developed roots (you'll feel resistance when lightly tugging on the stem), remove the plastic bag and continue growing the cutting it in a sunny but sheltered location. Be patient, as it can take up to two months for a cutting to properly root.
  5. Corylopsis has a fairly weak root system. Thus, it is best for the cuttings to remain in the pot over winter and continue to grow through the following spring and summer season, before planting in the fall, 12 months or more after the initial cutting was potted. The potted cuttings will require some shelter through the winter, such as placing them in a cold frame for the coldest months.

How to Grow Buttercup Winter Hazel From Seed

In theory, buttercup winter hazel can also be propagated by collecting the seeds from the seed capsules left behind as fruit of flowers. Each cell in the capsule has two small seeds. However, these are slow-growing plants that will take several years to mature into flowering shrubs when planted from seed. Further, propagation from seed is quite difficult, as the seeds require alternating cold and warm stratification over several months in order to germinate and sprout. Thus, seed propagation is rarely done by amateurs.

Potting and Repotting Buttercup Winter Hazel

Buttercup winter hazel is a rather sprawling shrub that doesn't make for a very good container plant, though it is possible to grow them this way. A large, well-draining pot filled with a peat-based standard potting mix will suffice. Amending the potting mix with extra compost is recommended. But be aware that container-grown shrubs may require a sheltered location for winter, as the roots are more exposed and susceptible to cold damage than they are when planted in the ground. In addition, container-grown shrubs will always require more watering and feeding. These are slow-growing plants that won't require frequent repotting.


In the northern end of the hardiness range (zone 6), buttercup winter hazel may benefit from some winter protection in the form of a thick layer of mulch over the root zone and a burlap or lattice screen to block strong winds through the winter. In zones 7 and 8, no special winter treatment is required, though it is a good idea to keep the shrubs well-watered going into winter.

Common Pest & Plant Diseases

Buttercup winter hazel has no serious pest and disease issues.

How to Get Buttercup Winter Hazel to Bloom

This plant normally blooms quite readily in late winter and early spring, provided it is growing in fertile, well-draining soil that has an acidic pH. The plant may even produce a second smaller flush of flowers in the fall. Failure to bloom can occur for several reasons:

  • Too little sun, such as when surrounding trees grow up to cast too much shade, may cause the shrub to withhold blossoms; careful pruning of surrounding trees may restore sunlight.
  • A badly timed winter frost can kill flower buds and ruin the display in some years, but the tree will return to its normal pattern the following year.
  • A young shrub may not yet be mature enough to flower. It's not uncommon for a winter hazel to take as much as three years before it begins producing flowers. Remember that these are slow-growing shrubs, so be patient as they mature.

Common Problems With Buttercup Winter Hazel

Athough they are largely free of pest and disease issues, buttercup winter hazel shrubs do have some common cultural problems:

Shrub Breaks Under Snow

Buttercup winter hazel is a fairly weak, brittle plant that often collapses under heavy snowfall, with stems sometimes snapping off at ground level. Prevent this by shaking the shrub free of snow after any major snowfall to prevent the weight from building up. Zone 6 to 8 gardeners are sometimes habituated to allowing winter snowfalls to simply melt away, but in the case of winter hazel, it's important to remove snow before it breaks the shrub.

Burned Leaf Margins

Where buttercup winter hazel exhibits leaves with apparently burned or dried edges, it is usually because the plant has experienced too much wind combined with harsh sun. The symptom occurs because the plant is unable to replenish leaf moisture as fast as it is being transpired. Make sure the plant is watered especially well in windy, sunny conditions; a thick layer of mulch may help preserve soil moisture.

In colder regions, winter hazel may require some shelter from harsh winter winds.

Yellow Leaves

Yellowing leaves is often a sign of chlorosis—a condition where the plant is unable to produce enough chlorophyll. In the case of buttercup winter hazel, this most commonly occurs because the soil is too alkaline, which prevents the plant from absorbing the proper soil nutrients. Amending the soil to increase pH, or feeding with an acidifying fertilizer, will often resolve the problem.

  • How should I use buttercup winter hazel in the landscape?

    Buttercup winter hazel is a good choice wherever you want to create some late winter to early spring color. Though not a spectacularly showy shrub, it works well in shrub borders or woodland plantings.

    First, consider selecting a place to take advantage of its translucent flowers. With the sun shining through the blossoms, it will almost create a yellow stained-glass effect. For this, you want a low sun angle. Second, keeping color theory in mind, remember that during the fall, winter, and early spring, you will have yellow branches. Consider backdropping the shrub with a conifer to give the colors a boost and to work the lighter colors of buttercup winter hazel against the darker conifers. Finally, think about putting some colorful winter flowers under the shrub, such as hellebore, snowdrops, or winter aconite.

  • How long does buttercup winter hazel live?

    In an ideal location, buttercup winter hazel can live many decades: 70-year-old specimens are documented. But this is a somewhat weak, brittle shrub, so wind or snow damage is a regular threat.

  • What is the difference between winter hazel and witch hazel?

    Winter hazels are often confused with witch hazels, as they are members of the same plant family and have a similar appearance. But these plants belong to different genera (winter hazel is Corylopsis while witch hazels belong to Hamamelis). Witch hazels typically grow 10 to 20 feet, while winter hazels are usually under 6 feet. Winter hazels have a more rounded growth habit, while witch hazels have a vase-like shape. Winter hazel is always a late winter or early spring bloomer, while some witch hazels bloom as early as mid-fall. Finally, some witch hazel species are hardy as far north as zone 3, while winter hazel is typically a zone 6 to 8 plant.

  • Does this shrub have wildlife value?

    Buttercup winter hazel has a very dense growth habit that makes it very appealing as a roosting/nesting site for birds and small animals, many of which continue to use it for shelter in the winter. The shrub is also appealing to butterflies and hummingbirds.

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