It is no secret that viburnums are one of my all-time favorite plants. “Versatile Viburnums” as I like to call them offer at least three seasons of interest. There is a variety for just about any landscape use or growing condition and no shortage of eye candy in the species.
This is one genus that is sure to please gardeners across the country. Their USDA hardiness zones range from 2 to 10, making them a viable plant option throughout much of North America. With over 150 species and numerous cultivars, there is surely a Viburnum that will thrive in your landscape.
Adding to the appeal, they are adaptable to a variety of growing conditions from dense shade (V. acerifolium) to full sun (V. macrocephalum) to even damp or dry conditions. For instance, V. burkwoodii is an all-round performer with good urban tolerance.
Their form varies from dense, compact shrubs, about two to three feet in size, to more loosely structured, very large shrubs. In fact, some are so large; they appear to be more like small trees, topping out at around 30 feet.
Most viburnums are semi-evergreen to deciduous and yet many are evergreen. All viburnums flower with their flower clusters being primarily creamy white, but some with pink to reddish overtones.
Some are delightfully fragrant (V. bodnantense, burkwoodii, carlesii, or juddii). In fact, their fragrance can be detected from yards away and can rival the finest perfume. On the other hand, odor is a more fitting term for a few species and the smell of wet, dirty socks in a locker room would be considered less unpleasant.
Although not all Viburnums bear fruit, for those that do, it can be as attractive as the flowers, donning bright and glossy colored hues of reds and blues maturing to black. In some cases, the different colored berries will all be present on the cluster at the same time, adding to its visual appeal.
Speaking of appealing, the berries are just as attractive to wildlife and are a seductive way to lure birds to the garden. It is not uncommon for a Viburnum shrub to be picked clean of its berries by wildlife (birds mostly) before we even have time to admire the beauty during this time. Fortunately the tradeoff is not so bad.
Fall color of the deciduous varieties can be striking and is yet another valuable reason to add viburnums to your landscape. Colors range from red (V. plicatum tomentosum) to yellow (V. dilatatum) and a combination of those (V. dentatum). Viburnum rufidulum, or Rusty Blackhaw, provides fall color that varies from pink to mauve to purple.
Landscape uses for viburnums are as diverse as their types. Some varieties are useful as shrub borders and mass plantings (V. carlesii), erosion control (V. lantana), evergreen backgrounds (V. rhytidophyllum) and low growing foundation plantings (V. davidii). Whatever landscape challenge you are faced with, a viburnum may be the answer.
If there is a plant genus that has more versatility and resourcefulness than viburnums, please let me know. It is equally as beautiful to all the senses as it is resourceful in the landscape. If I were only recommending one genus to solve a multitude of landscape challenges, I can’t imagine a more suitable plant.