Technically, witch hazel is a large deciduous shrub rather than a tree, but with large spreading branches, it’s acceptable to call it a tree as well. The witch hazel tree has many medicinal uses for the skin and is also used as a natural astringent. It is best suited to grow in climate zones four through six and can reach heights of 10-20 feet high and match that distance in width. Limited varieties can grow even larger than that.
Witch hazel is a large shrub that flowers late in the year—usually after most other species have already bloomed and withered away. This shrub requires full sun to partial shade and is moderately drought tolerant. Once established, they are virtually maintenance-free and resistant to most pests and diseases.
The foliage of the Witch Hazel tree is attractive year round; sprouting fresh and young red leaves which mature into showy green leaves that may grow to be eight inches long. In the fall, the leaves transform into beautiful orange and red colors before dropping in late fall.
Step 1 - Select Plants
Not all witch hazel is created equal and some varieties will thrive when another type might struggle in the same space. American Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is happy in zones 4-8 and grows up to 20’ high. It is commonly found along the east coast from Georgia to Canada and blooms in the fall. The Ozark Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) is also suited for zones 4-8, but this plant tops out at about 10’ high and 15’ wide.
Unlike the American version, the Ozark blooms from January to April in their native states of Missouri and Arkansas. Japanese Witch Hazel (Hamamelis japonica) grows in zones 5-8 with a height of around 15’, and yellow or red flowers from January through March. Finally, the Chinese Witch Hazel (Hamamelis mollis) has similar growing qualities as the Japanese, but offers a highly fragrant flower with yellow petals and yellow fall foliage.
Step 2 - Choose a Location
When planting a young witch hazel tree, make sure you place it in a location where its foliage can grow in all directions without harming anything. Ensure it isn’t too close to the walls of your home or another plant that could be smothered by it.
Witch hazel can tolerate a bit of shade, but it’s a sun-loving plant. However, it will thank you for an afternoon shady reprieve if your yard is hot during the summer.
One additional note here—while you can plant young witch hazel in pots, you will eventually want to replant it into the ground. If starting from seed or a small plant, it can be happy in a pot for up to three years. It’s also worth noting that trees don’t flower for the first six years.
Step 3 - Amend the Soil
Although witch hazel is very forgiving once established, it can be quite fussy about soil that lacks moisture. Clay and other compact soil is not a good fit for any variety of witch hazel. Instead, prepare a loamy, organically rich soil for your shrub. Also take a pH test and balance things out for your witch hazel. A mildly acidic or neutral pH is best, although it will tolerate slightly chalky or lime-rich soil if it is kept very moist at all times.
Step 4 - Plant the Plant
Once you’ve mapped out a large clear area for your witch hazel and provided it a nutritional base, put your plant in the ground and water well. You’ll want to have it in the ground a few months before the first frost in your area. Apply a few inches of mulch to help maintain moisture and protect the new roots.
As for ongoing maintenance, the most common thing your witch hazel needs from you is water. They are a hearty, happy plant in most locations and require only occasional pruning just to keep its shape. Plus, they are naturally resistant to pets and disease and will even tolerate a bit of deer nibbling.