Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
April, 2004
Regional Report

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Koreanspice viburnum will captivate you with its scent.

Vibrant Viburnums for the Landscape

I'm convinced that viburnums are the perfect landscape plants. These lovely plants have so many attributes that it seems only natural to use them readily. Most of them thrive in shade and sun, are tolerant of moist and dry soils, and come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Viburnums are also good wildlife plants since they have edible berries, and they offer us the pleasure of attractive blossoms, many of which are scented. Let me take you on a tour of my viburnums.

The first, and probably my favorite, is wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana). This plant is ideal for screening an unattractive view, and in just three or four years it will grow to about 12 feet high and about 7 feet wide. It has 8-inch clusters of creamy white flowers followed by large, leathery, gray-green leaves. In summer, red berries gradually turn to blue-black. The berries that aren't eaten by birds and squirrels shrivel and dry on the plant, looking like raisins. These viburnums hold their leaves well into winter, often only shedding them when new growth starts in the spring.

Throughout Midwestern woods and wild areas you will see naturally occurring American cranberry viburnums (Viburnum trilobum). These are the irregularly shaped viburnums that have the lovely lacecap flower clusters in spring where small, fertile flowers are surrounded by a circlet of large, sterile flowers. These flowers are followed by clusters of transparent, crimson berries that hang on throughout the winter. In spring the birds consume them when food is scarce.

Another favorite, arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), grows a bit stronger and denser in sun although it will survive shade as well. It has a regular, symmetrical shape because of the arrow-straight stems that emerge from the center. The leaves are glossy, toothed, and bright green. The white flowers produce clusters of bright, shiny, blue berries that are quickly consumed by birds and squirrels. Although this shrub looks great in spring and summer, it puts on its best show in fall when it turns flame red.

Another Midwestern native, blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium), works beautifully as a focal point. Blackhaw can be left shrubby to the ground or pruned to a single trunk, and its horizontal branching makes it similar in form to a hawthorn. However, it thrives in partial shade where the hawthorn will not. Blackhaws have clusters of yellow-white blossoms followed by fruits that turn from pink to red to blue, often with all three colors in a cluster at the same time. The leaves are small and glossy, and the fall color is a magnificent blood-red.

Two viburnums that are worth having if only for the scent of the flowers are Judd viburnum (Viburnum x juddii) and Koreanspice viburnum (Viburnum carlcephalum). Both are similar in appearance to the wayfaring tree, although the Judd viburnum is a bit smaller, and the Koreanspice viburnum is considerably smaller in stature. In early spring before the leaves emerge, it blooms with clusters of pink flowers that have the scent of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. The fragrance is strong enough to waft through the air for your enjoyment throughout the yard.

With choices like these, you should never be without a wondrous plant for your landscape!

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