All About Viburnums

Flowering Shrubs for the Landscape and the Birds

Viburnum plicatum in flower
Paul Thompson/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

Viburnums have long been one of the most popular flowering landscape shrubs. There are over 150 species of Viburnum. You can find a variety to suit any garden need: wet or dry, sun or shade, natural or formal, shrub or tree, native or exotic, USDA Zones 2-9. Bloom times span early spring through June and are followed by attractive fruit and outstanding fall foliage.

Cultural Requirements

Most viburnums prefer full sun but will adjust to partial shade.

They like a moderately fertile soil with a pH between 5.6 - 6.6., although many do just fine in alkaline soils. In general, viburnums are not terribly particular about where they grow.

That few pests will bother viburnums is one of the reasons they have become so popular in the landscape. Recently the Viburnum Leaf Beetle (VLB) has been introduced into North America trough Canada and has begun making its way south. The VLB, Pyrrhalta viburni (Paykull), is capable of great damage and is being closely watched.

When selecting viburnum plants, choose a young specimen, since viburnums can be difficult to transplant when they get older. Early spring is the best time for transplanting, giving them a full season to get adjusted.

Propagation

Most viburnums now sold are crosses and cannot be started from seed. You can propagate from soft wood cuttings during the summer or simply layer branches in the fall.

By spring there should be a new plant you can cut off and move.

Description

Viburnums are well-behaved members of the honeysuckle family. They are either shrubs or trees. The tree forms may require some pruning to achieve the desired shape.

The U.S. National Arboretum has done extensive breeding for hardy, pest resistant varieties.

Viburnums work great as hedges or in mass groupings and also make interesting specimen plants or anchors in borders.

Foliage: There is no singular viburnum foliage. It can be rounded, lance-shape or toothed, smooth, velvety or rough. There are some evergreen and semi-evergreen varieties and many deciduous varieties with outstanding fall color.

Flowers: Most viburnums have either white or pinkish flowers which are sometimes fragrant. The flowers themselves come in three major types: 1) Flat clusters of florets, 2) Flat umbels outlined with larger flowers, resembling lacecap hydrangeas and 3) Dome-shaped, snowball like clusters.

The fragrant varieties that are most familiar in the landscape are native to Asia.

Fruit: Almost all viburnums produce attractive clusters of drupes type fruits which are popular with birds, wildlife, and humans. However, most Viburnums are not self-pollinating and will require another variety to cross-pollinate with and yield fruit. Read more on Asian and Evergreen Viburnums and Native North American varieties.

You will find a ever increasing number of viburnum varieties to choose from. Here are some time tested choices to consider:


Asian varieties

Burkwood viburnum (Viburnum x burkwoodii) Zones 5-8, 8' H & W
Extremely fragrant. Outstanding cultivars include:
'Anne Russell', pink flowers and red fall foliage , compact
'Mohawk', spicy fragrance, white snowball flowers open from red buds. (Introduced by the
U.S. National Arboretum) 8-10' H shrub, Zones 4-8.

Korean spice or Mayflower viburnum (V. carlesii) Zones 5-7, Under 6' H, x 6' W
The pink buds are very fragrant and open into white snowball flowers.
Leaves can be either velvety or rough, like sandpaper
'Compactum', slow grower spreads to only 3 tall and wide in 10 years.

V. carlesii crosses:
V. x carlcephalum 'Cayuga', low grower with pink buds, slightly fragrant. Bright red fall foliage with black fruits. Zones 5 - 8
C. x juddii grows to 8 feet and is more open than its parent V. carlesii


Other Notable Non-natives

Doublefile viburnum (V. plicatum f. tomentosum) Zones 4-8, 10' H x 12' W
Flowers in flat, double rows, great orangy-red fall foliage and clusters of red-black fruits. A few are fragrant.
V. p. 'Mariesii' and 'Shasta' have the conventional white lacecap flowers.
V. p. 'Kern's Pink' has soft-pink snowball style flowers and purplish edging on the leaves.
V. p.‘Shasta’ grows to 6 ft. Flowers in May, clusters of pure white flowers followed by red fruits. Zones 5-8.

Linden Viburnum (V. dilatatum) Zones 5-8, 5'H x 8'W
One of the showiest for both the flowers and the red fruit clusters.
V. d. ‘Catskill’ only gets about 5 feet in either direction.

European Cranberry Bush (V. opulus) Zones 4-8, 15 x 12 ft.


Although not generally the showiest of viburnums, there are some worthwhile cultivars.
V. o.'Xanthocarpum' is an exceptional white lacecap type with persistent yellow fruit
V. o.'Nanum', a dwarf growing to only 2' H x 3' W in a span of 10 years
V. o. 'Roseum' Snowball flowers resemble hydrangeas in that they start out pale-green and change to white. ‘Roseum is a sterile viburnum.


Evergreen Varieties

David Viburnum (V. davidii) Zones 7-9, 3-5 feet Height and Width
Native to China. One of the most attractive evergreen varieties.
Dark green leaves with dark blue fruit. Tiny, tubular white flowers are borne on stem tips. Requires both a male and female to bear fruit.

Prague Viburnum (V. 'Pragense') Zones 6-8 , 10' H & W
A rounded, bushy evergreen shrub.
The glossy, dark green leaves are deeply veined and contrast with the tubular white flowers that form in domed umbels.

Leatherleaf Viburnum (V. rhytidophyllum) Zones 5-8, 15' H x 12' W Native to China. Semi-evergreen in colder climates, losing their leaves when temperatures dip below 10 degrees F. and not especially attractive in the winter.
Leaves damaged by winter cold tend to fall off in the spring, as new foliage emerges.

V. X rhytidophylloides 'Willowwood' has deeply veined green foliage and flowers in the fall
V. X rhytidophylloides 'Allegheny' has dark-green leaves that set of the reddish-black fruits.

It flowers in the spring.


Good choices for creating standards


Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum 'Newport' Zones 4-8, 10' H X 12' W
Viburnum carlesii 'Compactum' Zones 5-8, 3-4' H & W
Viburnum. X bodnantense 'Dawn' Zones 7-8, 10' H x 6' W Go back to learn about growing viburnums and Native North American varieties.

Viburnums native to North America don’t possess the intense, spicy fragrance of their Asian cousins. However they do offer a fabulous fall display and abundant fruit clusters, popular with birds and wildlife. Most are tough enough for hostile urban environments and many are xeric or drought tolerant. As with all viburnums, they are bothered by few pest problems and possess good disease resistance.

The only pruning required is for removing dead wood and to shape or maintain size.

Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) Zones 3-8, 10' H x 10'W

  • Very adaptable - Native to eastern N.A..
  • Grows wild in woodlands, bogs, and along stream banks.
  • Likes full sun to partial shade
  • Not particular about soil.
  • Fast growing and will sucker. Can be naturalized and is well suited to moist areas.
  • Creamy white spring blossoms
  • Foliage is a coarsely toothed, pale green, changing to yellow, red or reddish-purple in the fall.
  • The foliage is a larval food for several moths and the beautiful spring azure butterfly
  • Its fruit is eaten by several species of birds, including: bluebirds, cardinals, mockingbirds and robins and many use the shrubs for nesting and protection.

V. dentatum 'Morton' has a rounded, upright habit and deep burgundy fall foliage in fall.
V. dentatum 'Blue Muffin' named for its intense blue fruits, is more compact (3-5' tall), and makes a great hedge.

It’s also a good choice for containers or in foundation plantings.
V. dentatum ‘Synnestvedt’ Emerald LusterTM has lustrous dark, green foliage.

Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) Zones 2-8, 12' H x 10' W

  • Prefers moist shade, but will weather sun and dry soil.
  • Lacecap type flowers in creamy white bloom in mid- to late May
  • Fruits pass from green to yellow to pink and finally deep blue.

Swamp-haw Viburnum (Viburnum nudum) Zones 5-9, 12' H x 6' W

  • Grows wild from Long Island to Florida. Does equally well when cultivated.
  • Full sun to partial shade.
  • White flowers in late June, followed by clusters of round drupes that start out green and pass through shades of white and pink to finish a midnight blue.
  • The shrub is particularly attractive when it has fruits in various transitional colors
  • Foliage turns reddish-purple in the fall.

V. nudum ‘Winterthur’ has even brighter red coloring and more profuse fruit clusters.
V. nudum ‘Wintertur’ is self-sterile and needs to be planted with a different cultivar, such as the straight species V. nudum, to cross pollinate and produce fruit.

Hobble Bush (Viburnum lantanoides), formerly known as Viburnum alnifolium Zones 4-7, 8' H x 12' W

  • Native to northeastern to mid-Atlantic North America
  • Tends to grow a bit disorderly and is probably best suited to a naturalized setting.
  • Branches will take root wherever they touch soil.
  • It is an understory plant that likes moist, shady woodlands
  • Flat umbels of white flowers in May, followed by red fruit clusters that age to the typical blue-black.
  • Leaves are large and fuzzy.
  • One of the earliest viburnums to develop their fall colors of reddish golds.


Native Tree Form Viburnums

Maple-leafed Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) Zones 4-8, 3-6' H x 4' W

  • Populates woodlands from New Brunswick to North Carolina.
  • Not an aggressive grower and would be fine in a border planting.
  • Canopy is open and casts only dappled shade.
  • Can tolerate dry shade.
  • Flat umbels of creamy white flower in late May, followed by almost black fruits.
  • Turns an unusual pink in the fall.
  • It is a larval food source for the spring azure butterfly as well as a nectar source for the golden-banded skipper.
  • Hosts of song and game birds grapple for the fruits

American Cranberry Bush (Viburnum trilobum or Viburnum opulus var. americanum) Zones 3-9 15' H x 12' W

  • Bright red fruits that look a lot like cranberries and persist well into the winter.
  • A favorite of many song and game birds
  • Although the fruits are not cranberries, they are edible and safe for humans and are sometimes used to make jelly.
  • Makes a good screen or hedge
  • Fall color is a rich burgundy.
  • Grows wild from New Brunswick through British Columbia and south to New York through Oregon
  • The species is not well suited to warmer zones below zone 7.

V. trilobum 'Phillips' is a a dwarf selection with flavorsome fruit
V. trilobum 'Redwing' has particularly nice wine colored fall foliage and the bonus of red-tinged spring foliage.
V. trilobum 'Compactum Alfredo' makes a nice low hedge

Black-haw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) Zones 3-9, 12' H x 8' W

  • Fine in shade or sun and tolerates dry conditions. Doesn’t like salt.
  • Makes a good substitute for crabapples.
  • Distinctive for its pebbled bark, the red stems of its leaves and the yellow stamens in its white flowers.
  • The dark blue fruits make a nice jelly, but they are usually devoured by birds or wildlife.
  • Fall foliage is red to purple.
Go back to learn about growing vibrunums and Asian and Evergreen Viburnums.