Vast and Versatile Viburnums

(originally published in The Gateway Gardener, March 2006)

By Asta Sadauskas

a picture of a doublefile viburnum in bloom

Doublefile viburnum

Viburnums are a versatile group of shrubs with a wide range of sizes and shapes. They are white spring-flowering and most have good-to-excellent fall color, including some with attractive berry display. There is a variety that will fit every garden, and every garden should have at least one.

The viburnums are not overly particular as to cultural requirements. They do best in a well-drained garden soil of moderate fertility and some light afternoon shade. But they will grow (though not necessarily thrive) in heavy clay and full sun, and some varieties, especially the doublefiles (V. plicatum var. tomentosum), will need supplemental water in the heat of summer. They will also tolerate heavy shade, but will not flower as heavily. And the arrowwoods (V. dentatum) can take wet feet!

Since most viburnums are medium (6’x6’) to large (15’x15’) shrubs, they are often used to provide shape and structure to the garden, and their cultural adaptability means that they can be used in areas of varying light and soil conditions and still provide a coherent planting. All viburnums are useful to border a woodland edge and the semi-evergreen types are especially suited to block out a bad view.

The dilatatums (Linden viburnums, V. dilatum) have a beautiful berry display, but two varieties are needed for cross-pollination. A group of three could be used to frame a corner, and their dark, lustrous foliage could serve as a backdrop for a bed of bright daylilies or black-eyed susan. Their fall berries would only prolong the beauty of the spot.

But that does not mean that they can’t stand alone. The Judd (V. x juddii) (6’x6’) can be planted by a window or deck and fill the area with wonderful fragrance every April. The ‘Newport’ doublefile is a tight mass of white snowballs every spring, and the ‘Winterthur’ (V. nudum) has dark, shiny green foliage in summer, changing to very impressive red blend in fall.

So explore the world of viburnums. There is at least one out there for you. Here are some of our favorites:

Judd (V. x juddii)—6-8’ tall and wide, fragrant flowers in April, pink in bud, fall color brick red. Durable plant, very popular.

Cayuga (V. carlessii ‘Cayuga’)—6’x6’, fragrant, waxy flower, pink in bud, sturdier stems than Judd.

Conoy (V. utile ‘Conoy’)—Small 3’x3’ semi-evergre, protect from winds and hard sun. Flowers are few. May grow bigger in old age.

Eskimo V. utile ‘Eskimo’)—Small, compact (5’x5’) pure white flowers in abundance.

Linden Viburnums (V. dilatatum)—Sturdy, upright plants to 6-8’, lacecap-style flowers, need 2 varieties to set berries. ‘Erie,’ ‘Asian Beauty,’ ‘Catskill,’ ‘Michael Dodge’ (yellow berries). Berries in flat clusters are quite impressive.

Doublefile types (V. plicatum var. tomentosum)—

‘Shasta’—big, wide plant, 8-10’, flowers many and spectacular.

‘Watanabei’ (‘Summer Snowflake’)—5’x5’, flowers in May, then repeats a few at a time all summer long.

Doublefile types need supplemental watering in summer.

Snowball-type doublefiles—

‘Popcorn’  8’x6’, tidy (not sprawling) snowball bush.

a picture of a Popcorn viburnum in bloom

'Popcorn' Doublefile viburnum

‘Newport’ -tight, bunchy 5’x5’ with little snowballs. Needs watering in summer.

Arrowwood (V. dentatum)—‘Blue Muffin’ and ‘Chicago Lustre’ are more compact and ornamental than the original V. dentatum, which is 10-12’ tall and wide.

‘Winterthur’ (V. nudum)—6-8’ tall and wide, has beautiful shiny green leaves that turn a good red-blend in fall.

Leatherleaf types – V. lantana ‘Mohican’ is a tidy, reliable semi-evergreen to 6-8’.

There are many more, but these are our Top 10 favorites for modern landscapes—not too big, not too much maintenance.

Asta Sadauskas  owns and operate The Greenery in Godfrey, Illinois, where they offer more than 20 varieties of viburnums and other woody plants and perennials. You can reach her at (618) 466-8475.