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Plant Profiles

Weeping Witch Hazel—in bloom!



January: Prime season for the flowers of the weeping witch hazel.  Sensational Fall foliage was just the first of its cool-weather shows.  Ah, those butter-yellow leaves in November—but they're still hanging around long after they've turned to brown.  Yuck!




Fall foliage that doesn't know when to, well, fall is one of the hassles of this shrub.  Thankfully, because this is the weeping form, the bush will never get so large than I can't take a few minutes—really, just ten—to clip off each leaf with sewing scissors.




Some of the leaves pull off readily, but because they're attached right at the base of the little cluster of flowerbuds—see below—it's better to snip than yank.  Honestly, it's just a few minutes.  And I've cut way back on the little sewing I used to do anyway.  I'm glad to put those tiny scissors to good use, even if it's just once a year.  




With the leaves gone, the bright red flowers finally show up, at least when in hand. 




The de-leafing also reveals the profuse bud clusters.  They're a show in themselves.




The look of the weeping witch hazel is completely changed.  Before, it was a bush that was stuck in nostalgia for the great foliage of November.  Not pretty.  


After clipping off the leaves that didn't have the sense to take their leave (so to speak) on their own, the bush is now clearly living in the present.  It's doing something, even in the dead of Winter.  It's not just waiting for Spring, it's in process right now.




That the flowers aren't quite showy enough to see from a distance is actually part of the appeal.  You need to get closer to figure out just what the bush is, in fact, up to with all of those clusters of tan whatever-they-are. 


And then you discover that the bush is in bloom—just as you're close enough to swoon at the fragrance. 


Here's how to grow this easy but uncommon beauty:


Latin Name

Hamamelis vernalis 'Lombart's Weeping'

Common Name

Weeping Witch Hazel


Hamamelidaceae, the Witch Hazel family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous shrub.


Zones 4 - 8


Mounding, broader than tall unless staked.  Usually more wide-spreading and without upward leaders than truly weeping, but individuals can vary greatly.

Rate of Growth


Size in ten years

Unless staked, to four or five feet tall; seven to ten feet wide. 


Full and dense. 

Grown for

its foliage:  Witch Hazel foliage is distinctive all season long, with attractive veining and a wider-at-the-bottom pointed-oval shape that is immediately recognizable.  The Fall color is a glorious cadmium-yellow. 


its flowers: 'Lombart's Weeping' will never win a prize for its flower size, which is tiny, less than a half-inch, and an orange/copper that doesn't show up as well as the flowers of cultivars with yellow flowers.  The flowers make up for their size with their fragrance, a pungent citrus.


its habit: 'Lombart's Weeping' is unique among witch hazels for its low and sometimes truly weeping habit.


its vigor:  Hamamelis vernalis is a tough plant, succeeding in clay soils and flood-zone locations, and in anything from full sun to 3/4 shade.  And it's recommended, in particular, as a good performer in the Midwest, which is high praise indeed for any plant's hardiness and tolerance of extremes in weather and climate.

Flowering season

The depth of Winter:  Anytime from January to March, depending on the weather and your individual plant.  

Color combinations

Because Hamamelis vernalis is a mid-green bush in the warm months, it goes with anything.  The bright yellow Fall foliage stands out amid the more prevalent oranges, reds, and browns of the season.  As is usual with Fall color, almost any strong color is a plus, regardless of whether it goes with its neighbors.  Only in Spring and Summer are the rules of what-goes-with-what worth enforcing.  The small orange flowers aren't visually showy, but are very "showy" in terms of fragrance.  In short, 'Lombart's Weeping' goes with everything.

Partner plants

Hamamelis vernalis is appealing but not flashy in warm weather; flashy indeed in Fall foliage; and a "good sniff" in the dead of Winter.  As with any deciduous shrub, if by a miracle your Hamamelis is backed by evergreens and underplanted with evergreens, well, you're blessed, indeed.  The sprawling and, sometimes, literally weeping habit of 'Lombart's Weeping' would make the juxtaposition with a sternly-clipped evergreen hedge doubly exciting, by virtue of contrasting geometry as well as color.  The low branches don't usually allow enough headroom for underplantings that are taller than vinca or pachysandra, but the complex weeping branching suggests underplantings that are the simplest and the most uniform, so vinca or pachysandra would, in fact, be a good look.


The real excitement for plant partners would be something vining or scrambling, and in bloom in Spring or Summer, that could be trained up through the bush.  Few hardy possibilities that bloom in Spring and Summer are attractive when out of leaf in the Winter, and north of Zone 7 there are no vines with showy flowers that are evergreen, either.  The obvious choices, at least in terms of flowers—roses or clematis—become leafless soon after the first major frost, putting their awkward and often tangled stems on full display.  Their mess would be a distraction from the Hamamelis, which doesn't reach the peak of its Fall foliage color until well beyond that first frost.  And all of them are still leafless when the Hamamelis starts into bloom in the Winter.  Climbers that self-cling, such as ivy or climbing hydrangea or euonymus, would be an even greater challenge, because they could easily obscure the Winter flowers.


And yet the witch hazel's expanse of warm-weather foliage—high quality but, nonetheless, a bit bland—beckons temptingly.  One solution would be one of the Group C clematis:  These are cut down to the lowest buds of their stems each Spring, anyway, to bloom on the new growth of that Summer.  Why not cut them down in late Fall instead of the Spring?  Then the mess of a typical out-of-leaf clematis wouldn't be an eyesore when the Hamamelis itself is leafless.  Wait until January to prune your clematis, so your pruning will have the least chance of encouraging new growth while cold weather is still very much the norm.  It would set back the entire clematis if the pruning stimulated new growth in a mild spell, but that growth was then killed by the return of true Winter weather.


Another consideration is the length of Summer growth a Group C clematis might make.  Some will grow to fifteen or even twenty feet, which is far beyond the limits of even the oldest 'Lombart's Weeping'.  A Group C clematis that grows to six feet or so would be best.  C. texensis fits the bill beautifully: 'Gravetye Beauty' and 'Princess Diana' are described as getting only 6 to 8 feet tall.


A different type of clematis to partner with 'Lombart's Weeping' would be any of the non-vining ones.  They sprawl or lean, and 'Lombart's' low branching would be an excellent scaffolding.  Clematis recta grows to only three to five feet when cut right to the ground.  It usually dies to the ground by itself over the Winter, to resprout directly from the roots, so there's no worry, as with other Group C clematis, about cutting only to the lowest buds.  The purple-leaved forms, such as 'Midnight Masquerade', would be riveting when growing out from lower branches of 'Lombart's Weeping'.  The masses of starry white flowers that follow are a joy, as well.  When the flowers are done the clematis stems get cut to the ground in hopes of stimulating a second or even third crop of stems that same season.  So there would be nothing above-ground at all to detract from the host Hamamelis in the Winter.  

Where to use it in your garden

Hamamelis vernalis itself could be a naturalized thicket—it suckers eagerly—but 'Lombart's Weeping' needs a prominent location if it isn't to look like you didn't know it had such an unusual form, and just stuck it in anywhere.  Plant it towards the front of its bed, then, so you can appreciate all of its irregular droopiness, and so you remember to remove the inevitable suckers.


Almost any soil that doesn't get too dry in the soil, in full sun to light shade.  Succeeds in clay as well as with occasional flooding.

How to handle it: The Basics

Hamamelis vernalis is very accommodating, succeeding in almost any soil as long as it isn't too dry.  On the other hand, it tolerates almost any soil that's heavy or where there's seasonal flooding.  It tolerates a lot of shade as well as full sun, too.  Plant either in Fall or Spring.  Wherever you locate it, give 'Lombart's Weeping' all the room it needs to spread naturally.  The irregular wide-spreading habit would be destroyed in attempts to limit the spread:  There are, eventually, so many outward-bound branches that such pruning would give the bush a meatball profile.

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

I've chosen to give my 'Lombart's Weeping' a permanent stake—a ten-foot section of rebar, pounded two feet into the ground—so I can explore how the bush develops when it has additional height.  The spread won't be any less—it's not as if the bush is so strongly pendulous that greater height would give the branches the clearance to hang down more vertically—but it will angle and dangle from a higher altitude, too.  Perhaps I'll be able to limb-up the trunk a bit, to allow for higher and more diverse underplantings. 

Quirks or special cases

There's a lot of variance in how weepy any given 'Lombart's Weeping' is.  It would be worth it to buy this shrub in person, choosing the weepiest.  Now if only I could locate a retail source!


H. vernalis, alas, is one of the worst offenders in terms of holding on to its Fall leaves long after they've fully matured to brown.  If the weather's mild and I've got twenty minutes to spare so I can fiddle around in the garden, I go out and pull off the laggards when the bush starts to bloom.  This is a great time, duh, to enjoy the flowers' fragrance, too.  H. vernalis bushes sucker, which is a tedium common to witch hazels, which are usually propagated by grafting.  Clip them off any time you've got the momentum. 


There are about five species of Hamamelis, and many score of hybrids among them, with more introduced annually.  Sizes range from true dwarfs—'Quasimodo' and 'Little Suzie', which get three to four feet tops—to trees of H. virginiana, which can reach almost thirty feet.  Most, though, are large and broad shrubs eight to fifteen feet tall and as wide.  The flowers are highly fragrant, and depending on the species and cultivar, can be in bloom any time from October through March.  As is typical for cool-weather flowerers, the blooming season is long—as much as four weeks.  It's possible, then, to select a collection of a half dozen witch hazels such that at least one of them is in bloom from mid-Fall right through to early Spring.


Flowers range from pale yellow to orange, copper, orange-red, and even purple-pink; there are no white witch hazels—yet.  Fall foliage color is usually an enthusiastic yellow, but there's wide variance on how well the foliage is dropped—"dehisced" is the Latin—after it matures to brown.  Whenever possible, select plants that are known to dehisce well.  Hamamelis are such a highlight of gardens in Winter that it's sometimes possible to shop for them when they're in bloom, which is when nurseries would otherwise be closed.  For a few years, RareFindNursery had a witch hazel festival, with several dozen of their favorites from their very large collection brought into bloom at the same time.  I look forward to the festival's return; it would be worth a day's drive to central New Jersey to enjoy it.  Alas, they don't currently list 'Lombart's Weeping'.


There are some variegates, too, but none are yet so striking that I'm driven to shopping for them.




By cuttings and grafting. 

Native habitat

Hamamelis vernalis is native to the lower Midwest of the United States: Missouri to Louisiana.

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