Growing Witch Hazel Shrubs – How To Grow And Care For Witch Hazel
How to Grow and Care for Witch Hazel
Witch Hazel is one of the most popular plants in the world. It grows naturally in many parts of the world, but it is mostly grown commercially in North America. Its name comes from its color: it’s called “witch hazel” because of its grayish-purple color when dried and crushed into powder form. It is used in making cosmetics, perfumes, toiletries and other household items.
The plant grows best in full sun or partial shade. It prefers moist soil with good drainage. If you live in a cold climate, then you must not overwater your witch hazel shrub. You should water only enough so that the top inch of soil stays wet at all times (or use a drip irrigation system).
If you want to grow witch hazel in pots, then you need to make sure that the potting medium is very well drained. You can use peat moss or vermiculite; however, if you are planting them outside, then they will probably do better without any type of substrate. A plastic bag works great for storing witch hazel shrubs indoors. The bag allows for some moisture to build up, but it also restricts root development.
Every now and then you may notice that your witch hazel plant has yellowing leaves towards the bottom. This is a normal occurrence in most plants because they do not get adequate sunlight or nutrients. You can trim off these bottom leaves to allow for better growth towards the top of the plant.
You can harvest witch hazel blossoms any time during the spring and summer months. They look like yellow and light purple tulips. Once the flowers die off, you can harvest the entire stem that is attached to the branch of the plant. If you deadhead the plant (remove dead or dying blossoms), then you will be able to encourage new stems to grow.
Witch hazel can be used as an ornamental shrub for the garden bed, but it can also grow into a tree in the wild. It is very hardy and can survive in harsh conditions.
Growing Witch Hazel In Containers
You can grow witch hazel (Hamamelis) in containers if you like. Only choose a deep pot that is at least 12 inches in diameter to make sure that the roots do not get root-bound. You may want to use a potting mix that is specifically made for shrubs (cactus and succulent mixes don’t work well).
Witch hazel shrubs generally like acidic soils; however, the container that you are planting in may have a lingering affect on the pH level of the soil. You may need to add an acidifying agent to the soil when you initially transplant your plant (follow the guidelines on the package for recommended amounts).
Add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil when you are transplanting. Follow the guidelines on the package for recommended amounts.
Light & Water Requirements of Witch Hazel
Witch hazel can survive in a variety of light conditions. You will often find it growing wild in partial shade areas; however, it also grows well in full sun. If you live in a hot climate, then you should plant your witch hazel in a place that receives shade during the summer months.
Witch hazel plants like moist soil, but the soil cannot be soggy. They also do not do well in wet soil: if the area that you live in tends to have soggy soil, then plant your shrub in a raised bed, or in a container that can be easily drained.
These shrubs prefer average water, but if you are having a drought, then they can tolerate that as long as the soil is not baked dry. You should only water the plant when the soil is completely dry. Wet soil typically causes most root rot problems with plants, so it is best to err on the side of caution.
Insects & Diseases of Witch Hazel
Witch hazel plants are prone to a few different types of insects and diseases. One of the most common issues that you may encounter is aphids. These small, winged, soft-bodied insects cluster on the tips of the branches, and they suck the sap out of the plant. This causes leaves to wither and turn a silvery color.
Aphids can be hard to see until you actually give the bush a good look over. If you do notice small bumps on the stems and leaves, then you have aphids.
A tubular insecticide works well against aphids. You can also use a cloth to gently wipe them off. Do not use water on the insects, as this will cause the aphids to simply release a smell that will attract other aphids to the area.
Scale insects can also affect witch hazel plants. Scale insects are almost invisible to the naked eye. You may notice areas of the plant that have a brownish, hardened shell-like coating. These insects suck the life out of your plant and can cause it to become severely stunted if not dealt with.
The best way to control scale is to remove it by hand. Use your fingernail or a sharp knife to scrape off the shell. You can treat your plant with neem oil to prevent new infestations.
If you notice that your plant has some yellowed or wilted leaves, you may have a fungal leaf spot disease. This is a fungal disease that causes spots or patches on the leaves. You may notice the spots turning dark brown or black as they merge together. The fungus can also spread to the plant’s stem and even to the fruit.
You can prevent leaf spot by making sure that you water infrequently when the soil is damp. If you do sustain an infestation, then you can treat your plant with a fungicide or remove and dispose of severely infected plant parts.
Tips for Growing Witch Hazel
Witch hazel is a very easy shrub to grow. It requires very little maintenance, although it does respond well to some tender loving care from time to time.
Plant in spring or fall. This plant can be planted year round.
Dig a hole twice the width and depth of the root ball.
Spread out the roots and fill the hole with soil. Tap the soil down until it is firm.
Water the plant well and continue to do so infrequently. Water it about once a week if the weather is hot, twice a week if the weather is cool.
Fertilize in early spring or in the fall.
Prune as needed and remove any dead or diseased branches.
Common Witch Hazel Problems
Most common witch hazel problems are due to environmental conditions or due to lack of maintenance. You may notice your plant losing leaves or simply looking sickly. This could be due to a variety of reasons, including:
Soil that is too dry or too wet
Pruning and maintenance errors
Insects and disease
Witch hazel plants need at least six hours of sunlight per day in order to thrive. If the plant is located in an area that does not get a lot of sun, it will start to lose its vibrant color and begin to look sickly.
Witch hazel plants do not require a lot of water, but they do require regular water. If you notice the leaves starting to turn yellow and the soil is dry, it probably needs water. If the soil is constantly wet, the roots will start to rot and the plant will start to display symptoms of root rot.
Soil That Is Too Dry or Too Wet
The ideal soil for a witch hazel plant is one that is loose, well-draining and has a bit of organic material in it. The soil should not be either too dry or too wet. If the soil is too dry, it will cause the plant’s roots to start dying off. If it is too wet, it can cause root rot.
Pruning and Maintenance Errors
Witch hazel plants do not require a lot of pruning, however if you do prune them, you need to make sure that you are careful not to damage the shrub. It is also important to make sure that you do not over-fertilize the plant. If you put too much fertilizer on the plant, it can actually burn the roots.
Insects and Diseases
Witch hazels are somewhat prone to getting insects and diseases. A common problem is spider mites, which look like little red dots on the leaves. You may also see webbing on the plant. If you have an infestation of spider mites, you can treat it with insecticidal soap.
You can also purchase a mite spray from a garden center.
Another pest problem is the bat bug. Bat bugs look a lot like regular household bugs, but they are actually more closely related to the common or carpet beetle. The bat bugs will lay eggs on the underside of the leaves and the nymphs resemble little spiders when they hatch. You can purchase special sprays from a garden center that are labeled for use against these pests.
Apply the spray according to the directions on the bottle.
Other potential problems include various fungal infections and leaf spot disease. If you notice a leaf starting to turn yellow and fall off, it probably has a disease. You can attempt to disinfect it by spraying it with a mixture of one part milk and nine parts water.
You can also purchase a fungicide from a garden center to treat the plant. Follow the directions on the bottle for proper application.
Sources & references used in this article:
Seed production and seed mortality in a temperate forest shrub (witch-hazel, Hamamelis virginiana) by D De Steven – The Journal of Ecology, 1982 – JSTOR
‘Sunglow’american witchhazel by LW Alexander, A Witcher, MA Arnold – HortScience, 2018 – journals.ashs.org
A new species of witch-hazel (Hamamelis: Hamamelidaceae) apparently endemic to southern Mississippi by SW Leonard – Sida, Contributions to Botany, 2006 – JSTOR
Abundance and survival of a seed-infesting weevil, Pseudanthonomus hamamelidis (Coleoptera: Curculionidae), on its variable-fruiting host plant, witch-hazel … by D de Steven – 1981 – deepblue.lib.umich.edu
American witch hazel—History, nomenclature and modern utilization by EH Fulling – Economic Botany, 1953 – Springer
Reproductive consequences of insect seed predation in Hamamelis virginiana by D De Steven – Ecology, 1983 – Wiley Online Library
Thirty years of research on development of plant cover on an electric transmission right-of-way by WC Bramble, WR Byrnes – Journal of Arboriculture, 1983 – velco.com
Growth, Flowering, and Powdery Mildew-related Responses of Witchhazels in Tennessee by LW Alexander, AL Witcher, F Baysal-Gurel – HortTechnology, 2019 – journals.ashs.org