09 May 2008

Viburnums by Michael Dirr

This Viburnum beauty is blooming in the back yard next to pink bearded iris and snow peas in flower.


When a plant is easy to grow, with flowers in spring, attractive leaves in the summer, fall color and winter berries, you would expect to see it everywhere.

Viburnums have all of those qualities. Plus they are strong plants with few disease or insect problems. Gardeners can choose Viburnums that grow 2-feet tall or 30-feet tall. The butterfly attracting flowers are usually cream-white but some are pink. Some varieties have shiny leaves, some are leathery and others are velvet textured. Fall leaf color can be red, purple or orange.

The varieties that produce fruit include berries that are orange, red pink, blue or black. To get an abundant supply of fruit, gardeners only have to plant two different types.

These shrubs can be grouped to make a hedge or privacy screen or planted as individuals. Deer are not fond of the leaves though some grazing happens in years when other food is not available.

Viburnums enjoy the slightly acidic soil common in our area. There are varieties that prefer full sun, shade, wet sites and dry soil. Very little pruning is needed except to remove dead or damaged limbs and shaping as desired in the spring after flowering.

A 4-to-6-inch thick mulch of pine needles or other organic material keeps weeds and watering to a minimum. They prefer little fertilizer.

Michael Dirr, author and Georgia professor of all woody plants, has a new 200-page book that covers the specifics of over 100-Viburnums with 400-photographs of new growth, fall leaf color, or berries.

Each plant's mature size, fragrance, attractive bark, growing requirements, place of origin and level of appeal is included. Dirr doesn't pull any punches when pointing out a particular plant's shortcomings and he raves about the best ones.

For the Viburnum collectors, landscapers and growers, propagation methods are given as well as useful information about diseases and insects that can affect Viburnums.

Dirr's wife, Bonnie, is an accomplished artist. She painted lovely illustrations of Viburnums to add to the book's appeal.

The description of a few varieties will help to illustrate their diversity. Look for them in garden centers.

Viburnum Burkwoodii is one of Dirr's favorites because its leaves are beautiful, the 2-inch flowers are fragrant, and it is hardy and adaptable. Burkwoodii has distinctive dark red leaves in the winter. The fruit is blue-black. Burkwoodii tolerates heat and pollution. Likes a moist setting in part-shade. Look for the Mohawk variety. Mohawk has red flower buds that open to white flowers. Its fall color is bright orange to red/purple.

Viburnum utile or Service Viburnum includes some of the most poplar hybrids including Chesapeake, Conoy and Eskimo. Chesapeake has dark green leaves, small white flowers and some black fruit. Conoy is evergreen, 5 feet tall and 8-feet wide. The flower buds are pink and the flowers are white. Leaves turn purple in the winter. Viburnum macrocephalum or Chinese Snowball grows 6 to 15 feet. The unscented flower clusters are 3-to-8-inch balls. Heat tolerant but must be watered, needs sun to produce flowers. Does not make winter fruit. A wild snowball variety, keteleeri, has lace-cap type flowers and fruit in the winter.

Korean Spicebush Viburnum carlessi is the most popular because of its intense fragrance. The flower buds are red and the flowers open to white. It has red leaves in the fall and red berries over the winter. This one cannot take wet soil but every other situation, including shade is acceptable. Grows 4 to 8-feet tall and wide.

Viburnum dentatum or Arrowwood is "one of the most durable Viburnums for general landscape use." Climate, soil, and pH - nothing bothers it. "Plants appear almost bulletproof." Flowers are white, leaves turn yellow and red in the fall. "Amazingly adaptable … great choice for difficult sites." Use as hedge, group, mass planting, screen and foundation plants. The varieties include: Autumn Jazz, Black Forest, Blue Blaze, Blue Muffin, Cardinal, etc.

Dirr describes Viburnum dilatatum or Linden as, "Wow! Spectacular!" Each cultivar has its own qualities. Catskill is 5-feet tall, Asian Beauty has red fall color and cherry-red winter fruit, Cardinal Candy has white flowers and red fruit, Catskill is dwarf and compact with autumn color, Erie grows to 6-feet high with orange-red fall color, Iroquois has cream flowers and scarlet fruit, Michael Dodge has bright yellow fruit and red leaves in the fall, etc.

If you think you have a Viburnum and wonder which one, Cornell University Viburnum identification site is at http://www.hort.cornell.edu/vlb/key/index.html

The book is "Viburnums Flowering Shrubs for Every Season" by Michael Dirr, published 2007 by Timber Press, www.timberpress.com. $40 full price and $26 at online booksellers.


After reading Dirr's book, we added two new Viburnums to our landscape and Blue Muffin is blooming already!

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