How to Grow: Viburnum

Learn about growing viburnum shrubs including information on varieties.

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podcast transcript

Viburnum spp and hybridsViburnum Plicatum Watanabe, Japanese Snowball, Flowers


Other Name

sweet viburnum


Sun Requirements

full sun, part sun


Bloom Period and Seasonal Color

Spring in colors of pink, white, and red with colorful fruits and fall foliage color


Mature Height x Spread

6 to 12 feet x 6 to 10 feet


Added Benefits

attracts beneficials, attracts hummingbirds, native, edible, fall color


Viburnums are a diverse group of easy to grow, native, deciduous shrubs that work well in many places in the landscape. You’ll see wild plants naturally growing, but newer selections have improved growth habits. The clusters of white flowers bloom in mid spring. Some viburnums have flat flowers, while others have snowball-shaped blooms. A few viburnums have fragrant flowers making them excellent choices for planting under windows or near decks. For many other viburnums, it’s the late summer and fall berry production and fall foliage color that makes this plant shine. Berries come in colors such as red, white and blue-black. Viburnums make excellent wildlife shrubs. Birds love the berries and some species make an excellent jam or jelly. Fall foliage color can be reddish-purple.


When, Where and How to Plant

Viburnums grow throughout New England. Purchase plants for a local garden center and plant from spring to early fall in well-drained, compost-amended, moist soil. You’ll get the most fruit production and best fall color when planted in full sun. Space plants 6 to 10 feet apart.


Growing Tips

Viburnum likes a moist soil, so keep plants well watered and add a layer of wood chips or bark mulch each spring to maintain soil moisture and keep weeds away. Fertilize in spring with a layer of compost and an organic plant food.


Regional Advice and Care

Some viburnums can grow into large shrubs that may need rejuvenation pruning periodically to keep them in bounds. Prune after flowering to shape the shrubs. Remove any dead, diseased or broken branches anytime. Viburnums generally don’t have many insect or disease problems. The viburnum leaf beetle may defoliate certain species, such as the Arrowwood viburnum (V. dentatum). Control this insect with sprays in Spinosad in spring.


Companion Planting and Design

Viburnums are versatile plants. Plant lower growing types, such as the Korean spice viburnum (V. carlesii), near windows or patios to enjoy their fragrance. Plant large shrubs, such as the American cranberry bush (V. trilobum) or snowball viburnum (V. opulus) in a mixed shrub hedgerow with other large shrubs such as lilacs and forsythia. Plant easy to grow natives, such as the nannyberry (V. lentago) and black haw viburnum (V. prunifolium), along the forest edge to provide food for wildlife or in an abandoned area to fill in a space.


Try These

‘Wentworth’ is a good American cranberry viburnum with excellent fruit production. ‘Compactum’ is a 6-foot dwarf version. ‘Morton’ is an arrowwood viburnum with large black berries and deep red fall foliage color on12 foot tall shrub. ‘Blue Muffin’ is a 4-foot tall dwarf arrowwood viburnum.  ‘Roseum’ is a famous snowball viburnum, with large, round white flowers. ‘Mariesii’ is a classic, doublefile viburnm (V. plicatum) variety with horizontal branching. ‘Cayuga’ is a variety of the Koreanspice viburnum that features fragrant white flowers on 5-foot tall plants.

Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.

Podcast Transcript

I lOrdinary Snowball, Berries, Red, Ripe, Fruitsove shrubs that provide multiple seasons of interest. And one of the best is a native that often gets overlooked. It’s the viburnum.

There are more than 150 species of viburnums and many of the deciduous types grow right here. Viburnums range in size from a compact 3 foot shrub to a small tree. Most shrubs grow in the 6 to 12 foot tall and wide range making them great as hedges, foundation plants and specimens in the yard. Many have fragrant white or pink flowers in spring, colorful fall foliage and attractive berries in autumn.

The best part about viburnums is they’re winter hardy, adaptable shrubs, that grow in full or part sun. While the most popular types include the American and European cranberry bushes with their bright red berries in fall and the Korean spice and Judd viburnums with their intensely fragrant, spring flowers, I like some of the more common types.

The black haw viburnum has black fruits that birds love and reddish-purple fall foliage that is disease resistant. The nannyberry viburnum can grow into a small, 20 foot tall tree and is adapted to wet soils. The wild raisin viburnum also grows well in wet soils, has blue berries in fall and only grows 5 feet tall.

The biggest problem on viburnums is the viburnum leaf beetle. This relatively new pest has made a mess of some viburnums this spring. It attacks certain types favoring the American and European viburnums and arrow wood viburnum. The larvae defoliate the shrub leaving just leaf skeletons. Although a healthy shrub will leaf out again, it can weaken the plant. The best control is to grow resistant viburnums, such as the Korean Spice bush, or prune off egg infested leaf tips in late winter to stop them from hatching.

From the Vermont Garden Journal on Vermont Public Radio.


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