Chinese witchhazel (Hamamelis mollis) are a mid-winter garden delight. Depending on the cultivar, small yellow, orange or red flowers open in early February. Flowers survive many cold nights unharmed over several weeks.
Most of the Hamamelis x intermedia hybrid types hold onto their leaves during the winter in the southeast. The popular cultivar 'Arnold Promise' is one of the worst offenders for winter leaf retention.
Chinese witchazels retain (don't drop) their dried leaves through most of the winter, essentially hiding most of the tiny flowers beneath them. Autumn weather plays an important factor. If fall temperature drops are gradual, leaves will drop. A warm fall followed by a quick cold snap will stick leaves to branches all winter long. Often, this is what occurs in the southeastern U.S. (garden hardiness zones 6b - 8a).
1-15-10 Conversation with Brian Upchurch at Highland Creek Nursery in Fletcher, NC
Brian recommends planting Chinese witchhazel cultivars which tend to shed all foliage before flowering starts. His favorites are 'Wisley Supreme' (bright yellow blooms), 'Robert' (orange) and 'Twilight' (red). He adds that all three do not suffer from powdery mildew foliar disease as Arnold Promise does over the summer months. He adds that the cultivar 'Westerstead' is a better choice than Arnold Promise in the hybrid witchhazels.