Georgia Gardener Newsletter Cool Plant: November 29, 2007

Viburnum spp.

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Eastern Snowball Viburnum (V. opulus 'Sterile')

"A garden without a viburnum is akin to life without music and art." -- Dr. Michael Dirr, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants...

Never have truer words been spoken, for viburnums just seem to get passed over when landscapes are planted. In Georgia, there are at least a dozen (probably more when you count the species and various cultivars) of both native and non-native viburnums that are stellar garden performers.

Sometimes confused with hydrangeas, viburnums fit nicely into the southern garden blooming season that contains the following shrubs: loropetalum (early spring), azaleas (early/mid spring), viburnums (mid/late spring), roses (late spring to summer), and hydrangeas (early/mid summer). Often just as the azaleas are finishing their bloom but before the roses and hydrangeas get started, the viburnums make their presence known.

Viburnums come in a variety of sizes from about 2-3 feet to over 10 feet in height. There are several varieties of evergreen viburnums for Georgia, but most are deciduous. The flowers can range from light pink to white, with or without fragrance, and are shaped either in round trusses or flat clusters of both sterile (showy) and fertile (less showy) blooms - hence the confusion with hydrangeas. The leaves, which may be coarse-looking, are arranged oppositely on the stems and are yet another cause for confusion with hydrangeas. Unlike hydrangeas, many viburnums produce attractive berries (drupes) that can be dark blue or even bright red in color and are attractive to wildlife.

Viburnums grow well in full sun to partial shade. There are several varieties of native viburnums which are woodland shrubs and will bloom in fairly moderate shade. Otherwise, blooming usually decreases as the shade increases. Unlike their hydrangea counterparts, viburnums are more drought tolerant and bothered less by deer. They prefer to grow in loose, organic soils that are moist but well-drained. Our native possumhaw (Viburnum nudum) is common to wetlands and can tolerate flooding.

Fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubs. Despite the drought, you can still plant viburnums now for spring blooms. Leaving the plant in the nursery container, soak the root ball for several minutes in a bucket of gray or rain water. Plant in good soil, cover the root ball with mulch and water using the water from the bucket.

Doublefile Viburnum (V. plicatum var. tomentosum) Maple-leaf Viburnum (V. acerifolium)

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