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January plant of the month: witch hazel

Utterly beautiful yet tough and dependable, this winter star offers colour and scent at a time of year when we need it most

Tucked in at one end of the Harlow Carr Winter Walk can be found a delightful witch hazel, Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Aurora’, arguably the best winter flowering shrub in the garden.

This wonderful deciduous shrub or small tree is vigorous with a rather upright, vase-shaped habit, reaching 3.5m x 3.5m (11ft x 11ft). It has smooth grey-brown bark and broadly oval leaves which turn orange-yellow with red tints before falling in autumn.

At a distance, the crimped, curled and twisted flowers are a bright copper yellow colour and highly fragrant. Up close, the flowers are yellow tipped, graduating through deep yellow with red tinting at the base.

The flowers of ‘Aurora’ are very similar in appearance to those of another witch hazel, Hamamelis 'Aphrodite', but differ in that they are a lighter shade of orange and are bigger – being the largest of any witch hazel cultivar to date. Plants can be quite variable in their flowering time when young, but settle down to a more consistent rhythm when several years old. Intensity of flower colour and leaf drop timings can be variable depending on growing conditions and drought stress and can look different from year on year for the same plant.

Hamamelis (witch hazel) 'Aurora'Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Aurora’ does best in full sun or dappled shade. It requires well-drained fertile soil, dislikes shallow, chalk soils and will not grow well in wet or waterlogged conditions. Where drainage is poor it is possible to mound plant to enable its root system to establish.
 


This plant is frost hardy when mature but may require protection from severe, late spring frosts as the young leaves emerge. These plants strongly resent pruning, and are best pruned only a small amount each year cutting the growing tips back to two to three buds to ensure a compact and tidy habit.

 

See also

RHS Plant Trials blog: Bewitched by witch hazels

If you're an RHS member, you can log in and listen to experts discuss a recent plant trial of Hamamelis and share their favourite witch hazels in episode 41 of the RHS Members' Podcast

Find suppliers of Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Aurora’

Graham Rice picks his favourite shrubs for winter scent

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