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The Witch Hazel Event

Posted by on March 28, 2010


We don’t have many dismal days around here, but the Saturday scheduled for the “Witch Hazel Event” in early March happened to have great  potential to be a dandy of a dismal day. Fortunately, some weeks before I had mentioned to James, my fishing buddy, that I’d have some trees to plant in March. “Would you be interested in lending a hand,” I asked. His “yes” came without hesitation. Fortunately his Mom was equally enthusiastic. So when the trees arrived,  the date was set.  Little did we know then it would be gloomily overcast with a slight drizzle accompanied by a “brisk” breeze. Try telling a nine-year-old it’s too cold and nasty to be outdoors planting trees.

The trees were bundle of 25 vernal Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) which I ordered from the Missouri Department of Conservation.  Their shrubs and trees are not to be used for personal landscaping or for resale, but for “reforestation, windbreaks, erosion control, as well as wildlife food and cover.” As an avid advocate of native plants versus cultivars from goodness-knows-where, I chose  Witch Hazel because it is one of the first to bloom, from January to March, no leaves mind you, just yellow and red blooms. According to Tried and True Missouri Native Plants for Your Yard, published by the Missouri Department of Conservations, Witch Hazel  “Provides food and cover for birds; provides nectar for flies and bees on warm winter days.” Perfect. Particularly since my “yard” consists of the woods and glades surrounding the house. 

Eager to get on with the adventure, James and Mom arrived. It had not yet begun to get misty outside. Since these were bare root seedlings, planting them is a bit different from those often bought in a pot. I sat James down in front of the computer and had him read the MDC web page showing how to plant: 

I also showed him the book with the picture so he would know what this small stick with roots would look like in the years to come. I’ve only seen one in person — in a yard — not in the wild. It was spectacular. Two weeks prior I had attended a Fruit Tree Pruning Workshop given by  Horticulture Specialist James Quinn of the University of Missouri Extension. There, in addition to all the fruit trees, brambles and fig, was a witch hazel in full bloom. Fantastic. But it was a cloudy, misty day and I had left the camera at home. Arrgh. So when the second pruning session was held two weeks later, I finally got the picture that opens this posting. Overall, the blooms were starting to fade, only a few remained full of color. The pruned witch hazel was about eight foot tall and about five foot in diameter. If ours take, it will be interesting to see how large they get.

Out we went to plant. James was selected to carry the planting bar. Mom carried the bucket of water with the bare root seedlings. I got to carry the camera. Tough.


There were several factors that influenced selection of the spot to plant. First, would it get enough sunlight when the trees had leaves. Second, did the planting bar go “clink” when initially plunked down. If it did, we moved slightly to avoid the rocks it clinked on.


Sometimes it was not easy to get the bar through the ground. Small and large rocks were stubborn, but we assisted James by one of us  putting our weight on the bar.

Then by moving the bar back-and-forth and from side-to-side. it was enlarged enough to put the seedling roots in comfortably. The soil was then pushed closed to eliminate air pockets.


As you can see, these photos were not all taken with the same planting. The weather began to deteriorate. Mist became too common. But through it all James persisted and all the seedlings were planted. We marked the seedlings with surveyor’s tape so we could check on them later. It would be great if they all survived, but most likely not. Time will tell.

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