Dear Roger: You persuaded me last winter to grow some Chinese witch hazels for winter color and fragrance. It’s time to order them now for fall planting. Please list a couple of sources for me. Also, could you list a few daffodils that flower early enough to be in bloom at the same time? — Devon Oxendine, Lumberton
Dear Dear Devon: The earliest daffodils usually don't bloom until late February or March. The variety 'February Gold’ will, of course, bloom in February, as will many selected varieties of Chinese witch hazel.
Winter honeysuckle and two species of yellow-flowering winter jasmines, along with a host of camellias, will bloom about the same time. I mention these plants to potentially help with your landscaping.
An exquisite perfume drifts from the white-turning-cream flowers of the winter honeysuckle. The flowers start blooming in late December. And every warm spell will bring fresh flowers for a long season. But the flowers are not showy, and the big shrubs are not very pretty. Only the lemony fragrance is.
The golden blossoms of the witch hazels are the only showy winter flowers that are totally freeze-resistant for me. And they are fragrant, too. The earliest is called Hamamellis mollis 'Wisley Supreme.' This is also one of the most fragrant. It will usually bloom by the second week of January and will continue for a month or more, making it overlap with the earliest narcissus varieties, such as ‘February Gold.'
I planted my ‘Wisley Supreme’ near my porch so I could enjoy the fragrance. The bright yellow flowers open in ball-shaped trusses.
An unfortunate misunderstanding resulted in the loss of my favorite witch hazel about 20 years ago. My dad thought I wanted it cut it down. After years of grieving I replaced it with six more. They make very large shrubs or small trees. The one I lost was 18 years old and 15 feet tall and wide. It looked like a giant golden forsythia for two months or more every winter.
I finally planted six new witch hazels in 2010, all fragrant, and almost all yellow to gold. One has pink flowers. I didn't think I would like it, but when it bloomed, I thought it was wonderful. The name is Hamamellis xintermedia 'Antoine Kort.'
Another favorite is H. xintermedia 'Arnold Promise,' which I bought at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden's fall sale in 2009.
It has taken eight years for the new trees to approach the size and create the winter splendor and fragrance of the old tree. But in the meantime, they quickly made large, colorful shrubs that keep me happy in the winter.
Witch hazels should be planted in more gardens. They are decorative all year, but they are outstanding when the bare stems are covered with blooms like a big forsythia in winter.
They are even more colorful in fall when their large, fuzzy leaves turn bright golden yellow or orange
The best witch hazels are the ones from China and their hybrids with Japanese and American types. Some native American witch hazels are valued for fragrance, color and winter bloom. The Chinese hybrids have larger, more colorful flowers.
Witch hazels bloom in November through March on bare stems. The trees are small and are shaped like a wide-topped vase.
Cold does not damage the flowers. The ribbon-like petals simply curl into tight little balls in cold spells, then unfurl their petals like party toys on days when the temperature is above 40.
The time to get witch hazels planted is late September through early March. A good place to find exceptional varieties online is rarefindnursery.com where you will find the largest, best plants that may bloom for you this winter.
You are unlikely to find good ones locally at some of our better garden centers. But if you ask for them now, they may find them for you.
Plant in ordinary soil enriched with a small amount of slow-release or organic fertilizer and lime. Don't let the fertilizer or lime touch the roots. Keep watered weekly the first year. After that, water in dry spells.
The plants grow and bloom well in part shade to full sun.
Send your questions and comments to Roger at email@example.com or call (910) 424-4756. You may write to Roger at 6215 Maude St., Fayetteville, N.C. 28306