With interesting foliage, charming and fragrant flowers, showy berries, and a wide variety of varieties to choose from, viburnum adds extraordinary color to almost any landscape. Here are some general guidelines for successfully caring for viburnum shrubs. Click on each link for more details on each topic.
What is viburnum?
The viburnum shrub is one of the most popular native plants grown in the United States. Flowering shrubs can be evergreen, semi-evergreen, and deciduous. Most species are deciduous, which means that leaves fall every winter. Don’t worry, these plants still offer 4 interesting seasons as most are self-pollinating and produce berries that last through the winter and really stand out! The foliage can also be attractive, with glossy green or dark green foliage contrasting with the white flowers in summer. Or leaves that turn red in the fall. This plant is so much fun in spring, summer, fall and winter!
Berries come in a variety of colors, including the most common red, but they also come in blue, bluish-black, and pink. The fruit attracts birds and other wildlife, especially during the winter months when wildlife food sources are limited.
The flowers are white most of the time, but some varieties also come in pink or yellow. The flowering period is usually from late spring to early summer, depending on the variety and where you live.
How to grow and Care for Viburnum Shrubs
Snowballs thrive in full sun with some or most shade, depending on the variety.
Provide fertile soil that retains moisture but is well drained. If needed, add compost or old manure before planting.
pH requirements may vary by species; pH 5.5 to 6.5 is average. Check varieties, test soil and replace as needed.
How to Plant Viburnum
When planting snowball shrubs, be sure to consider the individual needs of each species. Most viburnums prefer full sun, but many tolerate partial shade. While not particularly picky about their growing conditions, they generally prefer rich, well-drained soil. Planting viburnum takes place in spring or fall. Dig a hole as deep as the root ball, but at least two to three times wider. Fill in some soil, then pour water into the planting hole before filling in the remaining soil. If planting more than one pod shrub, space them 5 to 15 feet (1.5 to 5 m) apart, depending on their size at maturity and their use in the landscape.
How to Fertilize Viburnum
Snowballs are not heavy feeders but benefit from fertilization.
In the soil: To maintain good leaf color and vigorous blooms, and to aid growth and overall plant health, feed soil-grown viburnum a slow-release shrub and tree food after blooming. Alternatively, you can feed them natural, organic plant-based foods. To avoid stimulating new growth that could be destroyed by early frosts, stop fertilizing two months before the date of the first frost in your area.
In pots: Feed viburnum growing in pots or other containers with a slow-release granular fertilizer or a water-soluble liquid plant fertilizer listed for use in containers.
How much fertilizer
Of course, it depends on the size of the snowball you are fertilizing and the type of fertilizer. For slow-release fertilizers for shrubs and trees, you can find directions for use on the package label.
Where should fertilizer be applied?
Viburnum roots can grow to 18 inches deep or more, but most of the forage roots responsible for absorbing nutrients are located in the top 12 inches of soil. Fertilizing the soil surface is sufficient to reach the roots of these forages.
Spread the fertilizer evenly around each shrub, starting about a foot from the trunk and then one foot over the drip line (branch circumference) every 5 feet of plant height.
NOTE: If the soil is compacted or has excessive runoff, apply fertilizer in a series of 6 to 8 inch deep holes in the same area, using about 5 holes per 1 inch stem diameter.
Soil pH is a measure of soil alkalinity or acidity and is measured on a scale of 1 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Any reading below 7 indicates acidic soil conditions and any reading above 7 indicates alkaline conditions.
Most viburnums do best in moderately acidic to slightly alkaline soils with a pH between 5.5 and 8.0. However, please check the soil pH preferences for the specific pod variety you are growing under the “Description” tab on each pod plant page.
How to Water a Viburnum
Most viburnums prefer moist, well-drained soil. Most strains do not like frequently wet or wet soil conditions, which can lead to root rot and other harmful plant diseases. However, some viburnum varieties may require more water, while others are drought tolerant. Therefore, it is best to understand the soil moisture requirements of the specific viburnum you are growing. Specific soil moisture requirements can be found under the Description tab on each viburnum plant page on the Wilson Brothers Garden website.
Note: If you are watering with an automatic watering system, it is best to set the timer early in the morning rather than late at night, as this can lead to the emergence of fungus and other leaf diseases. Test soil moisture frequently in the first few weeks after planting, and adjust watering times as needed to keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Immediately after planting, soak the soil of the planting area, including the root ball, to a depth equal to the height of the root ball. For extra stimulation, you can water newly planted viburnum with a rooting stimulant solution, which will encourage early root formation and stronger root development. Root Stimulator reduces plant shock and promotes greener, stronger plants.
During the first active growing season
With regular garden soil, you don’t need to water your newly planted viburnum every day. In most cases, this results in wet soil conditions that can lead to root rot and other harmful plant diseases. In the absence of adequate rainfall, water only as needed to keep the root ball and surrounding soil moist to moist. Remember, it’s better not to soak too often and let the soil dry out a bit before watering again, rather than spraying the plants with a little water every day. Shrubs planted during winter dormancy, when plants are less active and evaporate much more slowly, require much less water. So be careful not to water too much in winter!
Established plants only need additional watering if drought persists. If you see new leaves wilting or the tips of new stems bowing in dry weather, this may be a sign that your plant could use a good deep soak. Be sure to check soil moisture before watering.
How to Prune Viburnum Plants
Snowballs do not require pruning, but plants can be trimmed to shape them, control size, or remove damaged or dead branches. Taller viburnum varieties can be pruned into very attractive small trees.
When to prune
More extensive pruning should be done in late winter or early spring to reduce size, shape the plant overall, or achieve tree shape. Light pruning can be done almost any time of year to reduce stray, damaged or dead branches. Damaged or dead branches should be removed as soon as they appear.
Note: To avoid frost damage to new growth from pruning, stop pruning pods two months before the average first frost date in your area.
How to circumcise
Use sharp bypass hand shears when pruning viburnum. Long-handled pruning shears may be necessary when pruning branches larger than 1 inch.
How you prune viburnum depends on the variety:
This shrub or small tree blooms on old wood, so don’t prune until it blooms. Then prune at will to thin out old branches, open up the bush, reduce height or create a better shape. To remove a branch or trunk, make the cut half an inch from where you cut another branch or trunk. Avoid cutting too close to the origin as this may remove some of the bark and cause damage. Remove dead or diseased wood by cutting the entire branch to the point of healthy, disease-free growth. You can revitalize old plants by cutting them into short stumps, but the plants may not bloom for two years after that.
Healthy specimens rarely require pruning. Only cut snowballs after flowering when pruning is required for shaping. Old or crowded plants can be thinned and pruned so that the flowers are eye-level. After 4 to 5 years, you can remove 1/3 of the oldest stems, then cut back every 2 or 3 years.
Taller growing viburnum can be pruned into very attractive single- or multi-stemmed small trees.
If you have a young multi-stemmed viburnum that is less than 2 feet tall, choose 1 to 3 of the healthiest and most erect stems or main shoots, then remove the rest and place them 1/4 inch above the ground or from them Cut away from the trunk at the origin. This means more than 3 trunks is fine. Then let your viburnum grow to 4 feet or more before removing the lower branches.
If your viburnum is 4 feet or taller, start the tree by choosing 1 to 3 of the healthiest, most upright stems or main branches. If you’re lucky, it’s only 1 to 3. More than 3 trunks is fine. By cutting unwanted trunks or main branches 1/4 inch above the ground or from the origin on the trunk. Before removing the trunk or branch, make sure it doesn’t spoil the appearance of the canopy (top of the tree). Then first remove the lowest branches and side shoots on the stems that move up, leaving side shoots in the top 2 feet of shrubs that are 4 to 5 feet tall.
Over the next few years, as your tree grows taller, you can prune lower branches, side branches, or stolons until your tree reaches the desired size and crown-to-trunk ratio. Larger branches should be removed in late winter before new growth forms.
Species and Cultivars to Select
Viburnums are a group of large flowering shrubs, with some cultivars reaching a height of 6m. There are evergreen and deciduous viburnum shrubs. Many have white or pink flowers in spring. Also commonly known as a lingonberry shrub, viburnum is often used as a decorative feature in home landscaping. They are used for shrub borders or as hedges and privacy screens. Larger snowball shrub varieties are also great as solitary plants.
American Cranberry Bush
As mentioned above, the American cranberry shrub V. opulus ‘Americanum’ (formerly V. trilobum) bears edible red fruit that has been made into jams for generations.
Make sure you pick yours quickly or the birds and wildlife will be feasting!
Its burgundy, orange, red and yellow foliage enhances the bushes of the fall landscape as the trees above change and annuals and perennials fade.
When winter’s last bang, snow-white flowers herald spring.
Closeup square image of an American cranberry bush growing in the garden.
This type is suitable for zones 2 to 7 and grows well in full sun with partial shade. It tolerates wet soil well and is usually found in swamps in its natural habitat.
It grows at a moderate rate of 13 to 24 inches per year. Expect mature height and width between 8 and 12 feet.
American Cranberrybush is a good option for informal hedging.
Find American cranberry plants now at the Arbor Day Foundation store.
Arrowwood species Viburnum dentatum has yellow and red shades of fall foliage with showy blue-black fruit.
Cream-colored flowers and glossy jagged green leaves adorn this species in spring.
Arrowwood is best suited for zones 3 to 8 and thrives in full sun to partial shade, where it grows to 6 to 15 feet tall and wide. Expect 13 to 24 inches of growth per year until it reaches full height.
Close-up square image of dark berries of Arrowwood Viburnum growing in the garden in bright sunlight.
This dense shrub is clay-tolerant and an impressive border plant.
It is known for having the sturdy straight shaft that was once used for Native American arrows.
Find Arrowwood Viburnum now at the Arbor Day Foundation store.
The blackbird, Viburnum prunifolium, tolerates partial shade but does best in full sun.
It is a large species and can produce multiple stems on its own or pruned into a single stem tree.
Close-up square image of Blackhaw Viburnum growing in a garden border.
It grows best in zones 3 to 9. As it matures, it is expected to grow 12 to 24 inches per year. At maturity, it is 12 to 15 feet tall and 8 to 12 feet wide.
With its dense branches and irregular silhouette, Blackhaw is a good choice for informal hedging.
Find Blackhaw at the Arbor Day Foundation store today.
These native species not only beautify the landscape, but also provide important habitats for endemic wildlife, birds and beneficial pollinators.
The deciduous hybrid Bodnant, V. x bodnantense, has dense tubular pink flowers.
Horizontal close-up image of Bodnant Viburnum x bodnantense pink flowers, taken against a soft focus background.
It is 8 to 10 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide. It is best for zones 5 to 7.
The evergreen leathery leaf, V. rhytidophyllum, has thick leaves, white flowers, and red fruits.
Horizontal close-up image of the white flowers of Leatherleaf Viburnum rhytidophyllum, taken against a soft focus background.
Its mature size is six to ten feet tall and wide. It grows best in zones 5 to 8.
The maple leaf, V. acerifolium, has slightly smaller white flowers than other species.
Horizontal closeup image of maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) growing in the garden.
However, it is known for its maple-like leaves, which turn purple in fall, and clusters of dark blue fruit.
Mature sizes are three to six feet tall and two to four feet wide, making them candidates for larger containers. It tolerates deep shade and dry soil and thrives in zones 3 to 8.
Deciduous raspberries, V. lentago, grow well in zones 2 to 8. It has white flowers in spring, and its most notable feature in fall is its persistent blue-black fruit.
This species is unique in that it can grow as a multi-stemmed shrub, 14 to 16 feet tall and 6 to 12 feet wide, or pruned as a single-stemmed tree, up to 30 feet tall.
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