How to Grow Witch Hazel

Witch hazel shrub with long twisted branches with yellow spidery blooms

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

You're likely most familiar with witch hazel for its use in cosmetics or medicinal formulas, but this deciduous shrub is an attractive option for winter landscaping. It produces bright, fragrant, spidery flowers in the fall and winter.

Witch hazel is a very hardy plant. Unlike most flowering plants, witch hazel requires cold temperatures to produce its eye-catching yellow blooms. This makes these plants a real show-stopper in a sparkling winter landscape. Witch hazel plants have exceptional fragrance, though the flowers are not as showy as some other plants.

Bright green leaves adorn these shrubs in the summer and turn yellow or yellow-orange in the fall. Interestingly, the fruit and flowers appear at the same time; the fruit from the prior year’s flowers matures while the new flowers bloom. Native to North America, this plant was used by some Native Americans for medicinal purposes. 

Botanical Name Hamamelis virginiana
Common Name Witch hazel, American witch hazel, common witch hazel
Plant Type Perennial, shrub
Mature Size 10-20 ft. tall, 10-20 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Loamy, silt, moist but well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Fall, winter
Flower Color Yellow
Hardiness Zones 3-9, USA
Native Area North America

Witch Hazel Care

Witch hazel is a very low-maintenance plant once established. Nothing more than the occasional watering and pruning is required. Plant this shrub in early spring or late fall for the best results. A sunny location is ideal, though in very hot areas some afternoon shade will be beneficial.

These shrubs are resistant to most pests and diseases. Deer, aphids, leaf spots, or powdery mildew may attack witch hazel shrubs, but they do not normally cause extensive damage.  

Witch hazel shrub branch with yellow spidery blooms closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Witch hazel shrub with yellow and green leaves extending on long thin branches

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Witch hazel shrub branch with rounded green leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

Full to partial sun is ideal for witch hazel plants. Though they usually prefer full sun, partial shade is best in hot climates with intense afternoon sunshine. 

Soil

Witch hazel likes rich, loamy, moist soil conditions, but it is quite hardy and can adapt to differing conditions. These plants can acclimate to both acidic and alkaline soil pH levels, although acidic to neutral soil is best.

Good drainage and moist conditions are essential for healthy witch hazel plants. Try adding a layer of mulch on top of the soil to retain moisture. 

Water

Consistent moisture is preferred by this shrub, but it does not do well in soggy soil. Regular watering is essential for young, establishing plants. Once established, natural rainfall should provide enough water for witch hazel shrubs. However, be sure to water these plants any time there is a drought. If the top of the soil feels dry to the touch, it may be time for additional water.

Temperature and Humidity

Witch hazel is unique in that it flowers during the cold winter months. It is tolerant of a wide range of conditions from USDA zones 3 to 9, thriving in both cold and hot temperatures. Moderate humidity levels are preferred. Witch hazel does not do well in dry, arid conditions, but too much moisture can encourage fungal problems, such as powdery mildew.  

Fertilizer

Adding compost to the soil not only balances the moisture retention and draining ability but also adds loads of nutrients to the soil, resulting in rich, loamy soil that is ideal for witch hazel. Throughout the summer months, well-balanced, liquid fertilizer can be added monthly for extra nutrients.

Pruning

Pruning is not required, but the occasional trim-up can help maintain a clean shape and encourage blooming. Prune after the shrub is done blooming to encourage the growth of next year’s buds. Remove any suckering offshoots at the base to keep this plant clean and tidy.  

Witch hazel branches can also be trimmed off right before blooming and brought indoors to bloom.

How to Grow Witch Hazel from Seed

Witch hazel is often propagated from seed, but this process requires a lot of patience. Witch hazel seeds can take up to two years before they germinate. To get seeds started, they must experience the heat and cold of both winter and summer. You can plant these outdoors or mimic these conditions indoors.

  1. Plant freshly harvested seeds in moist soil and lightly cover them with soil. Place the seed in a warm area and keep it at around 85 degrees Fahrenheit for two to three months. 
  2. Move the seed to the refrigerator and keep chilled for three months. Be sure to keep the soil moist.  
  3. After this, move the seed to a warm area again. You can place it outdoors as long as the temperatures stay around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  4. Germination should occur in another two or three months. Keep it in a shady location, then slowly acclimate the seedling to more sun during the summer. The plant should flower in around 6 years.

Propagating witch hazel through cuttings is another option for starting these plants, but it is quite difficult and usually yields little success for the casual gardener.

Potting and Repotting Witch Hazel

Witch hazel can be grown in a pot, though it will eventually need to be planted in the ground if you want the plant to reach its full height. Container-kept witch hazel shrubs are perfect for smaller garden spaces and can be moved during the summer to make room for summer-blooming plants.

Once the witch hazel outgrows its pot, move it to a larger pot size or plant it in the ground. When doing this, try not to disturb the roots as witch hazel does not handle transplanting well. It is best to do this in the spring.  

Overwintering Witch Hazel

With its unique winter flowers, witch hazel thrives in the cold winter months. To care for witch hazel throughout the winter, occasionally check the plant for any damage caused by rabbits or deer. If damage occurs, a protective barrier can be placed around the plant, such as chicken wire or hardware cloth.