How to Grow and Care for Korean Spice Viburnum

Korean Spice Viburnum

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) is a deciduous flowering shrub with a spreading, multi-stemmed growth habit and wonderfully aromatic flowers that make this a great specimen plant for spring display. The oval leaves are dark green with serrated edges. The flowers start as pink buds and change to nicely rounded clusters of white blooms with a hint of the early pink color, with an unsurpassed clove-like fragrance. If properly cross-pollinated, the flowers will give way to rather non-showy berry-like drupes in late summer. The autumn leaves generally start out reddish but then turn to a purplish color, although some varieties are known for their more brilliant orange fall color.

As with many deciduous shrubs, spring is the best time to plant Korean spice viburnum, as this gives the plant plenty of time to develop a good root system before winter. Like most viburnums, this is a relatively slow grower, adding 1 to 2 feet per year until it reaches its mature size of about 6 feet. Some cultivars are shorter plants, but these are even slower growing, still requiring at least three years to reach their mature size and begin producing flowers.

Common Name Korean spice bush, Korean spice viburnum
Botanical Name Viburnum carlesii
Family Adoxaceae
Plant Type Deciduous flowering shrub
Mature Size 4–6 ft. tall, 4–7 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Moist, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic to neutral
Bloom Time Early to mid-spring
Flower Color Pinkish transforming to white
Hardiness Zones 4–7 (USDA)
Native Area Korea, Japan
korean spice viburnum

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

korean spice viburnum

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Korean Spice Viburnum Care

Plant Korean spice viburnum in average well-drained soil in almost any exposure conditions except dense shade. It is one of the more trouble-free of all shrubs. These shrubs are not self-pollinating, so if you want them to develop fruits, you'll need two different cultivars from the same species to ensure cross-pollination. It's important that the cultivars come into bloom at the same time; your garden center can assist you with this.

Korean spice shrubs should be planted in rich, well-draining soil at the same height as they are in the nursery pot. Dig a well-prepared hole about twice the diameter of the nursery container, and back-fill with soil amended with plenty of organic matter, such as compost. If planting multiple shrubs, space them 4 to 6 feet apart to ensure good air circulation.


Plant this shrub in full sun or partial shade. A sunnier location will lead to more profuse flowering.


These bushes grow best in the moist but well-drained soil with a slightly acidic soil pH. They do not do well in very wet soil.


Maintain evenly moist soil with regular watering. Weekly watering—about 1 inch per week—is typical in many areas, but drier climates or seasons may necessitate more frequent watering. This plant is relatively drought-resistant once established but will perform best if it receives a deep weekly watering during dry spells

Temperature and Humidity

Viburnums are generally tolerant of high heat but do best with some shade during the hottest periods of summer. They prefer humid climates, but will tolerate dry conditions.


Feed the plant in spring with a slow-release tree and shrub fertilizer to support overall health and promote future blooms. Don't feed late in summer because this can force new growth that can be damaged by fall frost.

Types of Korean Spice Viburnum

Several varieties of Korean spice viburnum are available, some of which are cultivars, others that are crosses between V.carlesiii and other species:

  • 'Aurora' is a slower-growing rounded shrub that generally stays around 4 to 5 feet in height.
  • 'Cayuga' is a very reliable cultivar similar to the species plant. It grows 4 to 10 feet tall and is a very profuse bloomer, producing 4-inch-wide white clusters in spring.
  • ‘Compactum’ is a smaller variety of Korean spice viburnum that grows 2 1/2 to 4 feet tall and wide with flowers colored the same as the pure species, white.
  • 'Spice Girl' is a relatively compact, 6 to 7-foot shrub with flowers that hold a pink color for a considerable length of time before fading to white. It makes an especially good hedge plant due to its dense growth habit.
  • 'Spice Island' is 3 to 5 feet tall with white flowers, and dark green leaves with good red fall color.
  • 'Sugar N' Spice' is 4 to 5 feet high with dark green leaves that turn maroon-red in fall.
  • Viburnum × carlcephalum is a cross between V. carlesii and V. macrocephalum var. keteleeri. It has large snow-ball-like flowers, and is hardy in zones 6 to 8. It grows 6 to 10 feet tall.
  • Viburnum x burkwoodii (Burkwood vibernum) is a cross between V. utile and V. carlesii. It is a broad, dense shrub reaching 8 to 10 feet, with flat-topped white flowers blooming in April.


Korean spice viburnum from their flower buds on old wood—the prior season's growth. Therefore, if you wish to prune the plants in order to shape them and/or restrict their size, do your pruning just after they have finished flowering. Simply cut the branch tips to promote further branching and a bushier look. Also, remove any dead branches and those that rub against each other.

Propagating Korean Spice Viburnum

The best way to propagate Korean spice viburnums is by taking softwood cuttings in spring as new growth appears. Here's how to do it:

  1. Use sharp pruners to clip 4-inch segments of new growth at the tips of branches. Morning is the best time to do this, as the stems will be nicely hydrated.
  2. Fill small containers with a 60-40 mixture of commercial potting soil and sand or perlite.
  3. Strip off the lower leaves, dip the end of the clipping, including the nodes where the leaves were removed, then plant the cutting in the growing medium, up to the first leaves.
  4. Water thoroughly, then place the planted cutting in a loosely secure plastic bag to hold in moisture.
  5. Place the covered pot in a warm location that is bright but out of direct sunlight. Periodically check the cutting and moisten the growing medium if necessary.
  6. In about four weeks, a good root system should be developed and new leaf growth will be evident. At this point, you can transplant the rooted cutting into a larger container filled with an 80-20 mix of potting mix and perlite or sand. Move the pot into direct sunshine and water and feed it as a normal potted plant.
  7. It's common to grow the cutting in the pot over a full season, then plant it the following spring after overwintering it in a sheltered spot.

Remember that with trademarked or registered cultivars (such as Spice Gir), it is illegal to propagate the plants yourself, either vegetatively or by collecting and planting seeds. Doing so can potentially lead to serious legal consequences resulting from copyright infringement.

How to Grow Korean Spice Viburnum From Seed

Growing viburnums from seed is not often done, as the process is lengthy, requiring as much as 18 months before the seeds even germinate and sprout. If you want to try it, collect some seeds from the dried fruits, then store them in a moist, warm environment (76 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit) for about two months. Next, they will need a winter-like period of cold stratification (you can do this in a refrigerator) for three months.

Now, the prepared seeds can be sown in seed flats (just barely covered with seed starter mix) until they sprout. When true leaves appear, the tiny seedlings can be transplanted into individual pots and grown on for at least a full season, until they are large enough for garden planting.

The entire process can take as many as three years, so it's much more common to propagate by rooting stem cuttings.

Potting and Repotting Korean Spice Viburnum

Not all viburnums are suitable for container culture, but smaller cultivars of Korean spice viburnum usually do fairly well. Choose a pot that is somewhat larger than the plant's nursery container (a pot at least 20 inches in diameter is recommended). Because potted viburnum can be sensitive to heat on the roots, choose a material that does not absorb heat, such as a resin pot or one made from fiberglass.

Use a potting mix that is slightly acidic and well-draining. A mixture of standard potting soil and perlite or sand works well. A potted viburnum will need more frequent watering and feeding than an in-ground shrub. Plan on watering at least twice a week and feeding monthly.

A potted viburnum will quickly use up the soil's nutrients, so repot it every four or five years. Rather than potting up to a larger container, remove the plant from the pot, shake off the soil, then replant it into the same container using fresh growing mix.


Viburnums are very hardy shrubs that generally do not require winter protection against cold—at least if they are grown within their recognized hardiness range. With all viburnums, withhold water and fertilizer as fall progresses. Avoid allowing the shrub to soak in damp conditions over the winter, as this is an invitation to root rot.

A blanket of mulch over the root zone can be helpful if you are growing the shrub in a region where it is borderline hardy. In these regions, some growers protect the shrub with a tent or wrap of burlap for the winter to avoid winter burn. However, viburnums generally recover nicely from some winter dieback.

How to Get Korean Spice Viburnum to Bloom

A mature, healthy Korean spice viburnum will generally reward you with plenty of large flower clusters that last for several weeks sometime in early to late spring. If the flower show disappoints, it's usually for one of these reasons:

  • Plant is too young: Korean spice viburnums generally don't flower until they are at least three years old. If you have planted a young nursery plant—or are propagating one of your own—be patient.
  • Shrub is not getting enough sun: A shrub growing in dense shade will rarely flower robustly, though you should get some flowers.
  • Untimely frost killed buds: If a very hard frost hits in the early spring (or too early in the fall) it can potentially kill off the upcoming season's flower buds.
  • Soil is too alkaline: Viburnums like a slightly acidic to neutral soil, and if your soil is too alkaline (common in desert or prairie regions), then you may need to feed with an acidifying fertilizer to enjoy good flowering on your viburnum.
  • Pruning has been improper: If the shrub is pruned too late in the year, all the "old wood" that produces flower buds will be removed. Remember that these shrubs should be pruned immediately after they flower, then left alone.
  • The shrub has been fed too much nitrogen: Excessive nitrogen can stimulate plenty of green leaf development but at the expense of flowering. This is common when a viburnum shrub is planted adjacent to lawn areas that are frequently fed with nitrogen-rich fertilizer
  • The shrub is diseased: A viburnum shrub that struggling due to a pest or disease problem often conserves its energy by flowering less profusely. Manage health issues as they arise.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

It's quite likely your Korean spice viburnum will never show any pest or disease problems at all. But one problem you may experience is leaf curl at the tips of branches. The culprit will most likely be aphids. If you can manage to catch them in action, spray them with organic neem oil. Luckily, if restricted to just a relatively small portion of the entire plant, leaf curl does no long-term harm. Prune off the affected branch tips and dispose of them properly, and the plant will be none the worse for it.

Korean spice viburnum can also be susceptible to viburnum crown borer, an insect that bores holes in the lower stems, causing die-back. Keeping the plant in good health often prevents these insects from gaining a foothold. Where crown borers are known to be a problem, pesticides sprayed on the lower 12 inches of the stems can kill borers before they damage the shrub.

Bacterial leaf spot, powdery mildew, and Armillaria root rot are among the diseases that occasionally cause problems with this plant. Prevent these problems by giving them good air circulation by watering them at ground level, and making sure the soil has excellent drainage. Diseased plant parts should be cut away and discarded.

Common Problems With Korean Spice Viburnum

In most cases, reported complaints with Korean spice viburnum are due to pest problems and fungal diseases that cause leaf spots or branch die-back (see above). But another very common cause of leaves drying up and branches dying back is simply that the plant is suffering the effects of drought. Although this shrub is sometimes described as having good drought resistance, that reputation only holds for well-established plants and for relatively short drought periods, up to four weeks or so. It's quite common in these days of water-usage sensitivity for homeowners to allow ground-covers and garden plants to get quite thirsty—the belief is that they readily go dormant and will quickly return once rainfall returns.

Korean spice viburnum falls into that category of plants that is drought tolerant only up to a certain point. Beyond that line, the shrub will quickly make you pay for your miserly approach to water. It's best to water your thirsty viburnum deeply and immediately when you begin to see leaves start to dry up and turn black.

  • Are there other shrubs known as spicebush?

    Be careful not to confuse this plant with spicebush (Lindera benzoin) or California allspice or California spicebush (Calycanthus occidentalis). Viburnum carlesii is in the Moschatel family of plants, which also includes elderberry (Sambucus spp.).

  • How should I use this shrub in the landscape?

    Korean spice viburnum is an excellent choice for wherever you want early spring color and outstanding aroma. For example, you might include these shrubs in your entryway landscaping or as foundation shrubs to fully appreciate their scent. They also work well planted in groups or with other bushes in shrub islands—some varieties even make good hedges.

  • Does this plant have wildlife appeal?

    Yes. Wild birds feed on the berries (if present), and these shrubs also attract butterflies and are a food source for Spring Azure Blue butterfly caterpillars. And they are generally considered to be resistant to deer and rabbit browsing.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Viburnum carlesii. Missouri Botanical Garden.

  2. Viburnum carlesii. North Carolina State Extension.

  3. How to Root Viburnum Cuttings. Garden Guides.

  4. How to Grow Viburnum in the Garden and In the Pot. Garden Bine.

  5. Viburnum Pests. Cornell University

  6. Viburnum Crown Borer. The Morton Arboretum.