As you begin thinking about spring landscaping, consider viburnums to add variety to your garden. These plants range in size from two- to three-foot shrubs to 30-foot trees and have excellent foliage, attractive and often fragrant flowers, showy fruit, and an interesting winter appearance.
While relatively few of our native viburnums have found their way into the commercial landscape trade, many work well in naturalistic settings and provide excellent cover and food for birds. Hybrids, cultivars, and native viburnums are quite hardy in most areas of Vermont.
Viburnums are resistant to serious insect infestation and adapt well to a variety of soil and environmental conditions. They are a good choice for busy gardeners because they require little pruning.
American Cranberrybush Viburnum (V. trilobum) is perhaps best known, as it is native, hardy, and has edible red fruits in fall, which are great for making jellies (and of course, for birds, too). It grows upright, about eight to10 feet high. There are several cultivars of this to consider as well, such as ‘Bailey Compact’, ‘Compactum’, and ‘Alfredo,’ which grows only five to six feet tall.
Compact Koreanspice Viburnum (V. carlesii ‘Compactum’) and Compact European Cranberrybush (V. opulus ‘Compactum’) are ideal for spaces with only three or four feet of planting area.
In the spring Koreanspice is covered with pink fragrant flower clusters the size of tennis balls. The Compact Cranberrybush produces flowers that are white, slightly fragrant, and grow in flat-topped clusters. Koreanspice fruit is not especially showy, but the bright red, fleshy fruit on the Cranberrybush in fall is very attractive. It grows in dense clusters several inches across.
The standard form of Koreanspice Viburnum is a good intermediate landscape plant as it only grows five to six feet high with an equal spread. Its dull green foliage turns bright scarlet in the fall.
Burkwood Viburnum (V. burkwoodii) is similar to Koreanspice in form, flower, and fragrance although the burkwood has partially evergreen leaves. Koreanspice is one of its parents.
Onandago Viburnum (V. sargentii ‘Onandaga’) is quite hardy and a good selection for its purplish leaves in spring, which turn dark green in the summer. Its clusters of white flowers contrast nicely with the leaves. It can reach heights of eight to 12 feet and grows in an upright oval shape. As it is quite vigorous, don’t overfertilize it.
These are only a few of the many viburnums suitable for landscapes. Others are described in Landscape Plants for Vermont, a University of Vermont (UVM) Extension publication. To order a copy, send $17 (includes shipping) to the Vermont Master Gardener Program, UVM Extension Office, 655-A Spear St., Burlington, Vt. 05404-0107. Make checks payable to “Vermont Master Gardener Program.”
VIBURNUMS FOR VARIETY
By Dr. Leonard Perry
Extension Nursery and Greenhouse Specialist
University of Vermont