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Versatile Vibrant Viburnums

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Viburnum carlesii 'Compactum' Robert E. Lyons ©

Viburnum carlesii ‘Compactum’
Robert E. Lyons ©

“A garden without a viburnum is akin to life without music and art,” says Michael A. Dirr, noted horticulturist. Choices abound. More than 150 species and cultivars range in size from low shrubs to small trees, with white or pink flowers, many fruit colors, for wet or dry areas, from formal to natural, native or exotic and with inspiring fall color. Leaves of viburnums vary in shape, texture and size. Flowering may occur from autumn to June, depending on the species. Viburnums are versatile, fitting into woodland plantings, borders, patios and public areas.

Natives Viburnum alnifolium, known as hobblebush, and V. cassinoides,Witherod viburnum, prefer moist to wet soils and shaded woodland. Both grow to about 6 feet high with white flowers. Hobblebush has red to black summer fruit with deep red foliage in autumn. Witherod viburnum will turn heads with variable fruit colors from green to pink to red, then blue to black. Other natives prefer drier or well-drained soils. Black haw, V. prunifolium , can survive in full sun or heavy shade. Downy arrowwood,V. rafinesquianum , will tolerate many soil types and cold winters. Native viburnums provide food for wildlife and are among the toughest of landscape plants.

Viburnum carlesii Robert E. Lyons ©

Viburnum carlesii
Robert E. Lyons ©

Another attribute of some of the viburnums is a sweet fragrance. While a few are real stinkers, many of the exotic species provide a memorable experience while in bloom. Seasoned gardeners favor Koreanspice, V. carlesii,and the cultivar V. burkwoodii‘Mohawk’ for a delicious spicy fragrance and striking fall foliage.

V. carlcephalum ‘Cayuga’ has pink buds that open up to 5-inch, fragrant white, waxy flowers in spring. Leatherleaf viburnum, V. rhytidophyllum, lives up to its common name in cooler climates. Leaves are distinctly corrugated and deep green.

Viburnum awabuki ‘Chindo’ was introduced by J.C. Raulston. The leaves are lustrous and dark green. It will survive in all but wet soils. Growing 10 to 15 feet, it is one of the most desirable evergreen screening plants for sunny or shady areas.

Mike Wilder