LINCOLN, Neb. — There’s a lot to love about viburnums. Though they are known for their large, showy (and sometimes fragrant) spring blossoms, their ornamental characteristics extend far beyond that. Many produce magnificent berries late summer into fall, most have outstanding fall color and some have foliage that persists all winter.
In the face of recent drought, viburnums have fared far better than more commonly-planted shrubs like hydrangea and burning bush. And if deer are a problem in your locale, another great quality is that viburnums are rarely bothered by them. Ornamental characteristics really vary within this species and new varieties are being developed all the time, but here’s a few that really shine.
The fruits of Siebold viburnum (Viburnum sieboldii) change from rose to red to black. It’s one of the largest viburnums, growing to 20 feet or higher. It has a rigid growing habit and is worth planting alone as a specimen.
American cranberrybush viburnum (V. trilobum) gets yellow to reddish purple fall foliage and bright red fruits that may hold from September into February. It is similar to European cranberrybush, but has better fall color and is more resistant to aphids. A dwarf cultivar, ‘Compactum’, grows to 5 feet by 5 feet.
Nannyberry viburnum (V. lentago), a Nebraska native, is tolerant of almost any conditions; sun or shade, moist or dry soils, planted in a border or as a specimen. Fruits go through a series of color changes. Green when they first appear in September, they may turn yellow, rose and pink before becoming bluish black. They often persist into December. Fall foliage may be red, but often the leaves fall off while they are still green. Its one weakness is susceptibility to mildew, so it should be planted where there is good air movement.
The fruits of arrowwood viburnum (V. dentatum)are also bluish black September through October and are favored by birds. Plantsman Michael Dirr calls this viburnum “possibly [the] most durable viburnum for midwest… in Nebraska it withstands the high pH, heavy soils and the vagaries of that climate.” The dark green leaves are glossy and turn yellow to red in the fall.
On wayfaringtree (V. lantana) the fruits go from yellow to red to black, often with all three colors present at the same time, making it showy in fall even though its leaves rarely develop good fall color. Planting several varieties in close proximity will increase fruiting. It can also withstand difficult, clayey soils. The cultivar ‘Mohican’ is slightly smaller, 8.5 feet by 8.5 feet, than the mature size of 13 by 13 feet for the species.
Another viburnum outstanding for its fruits is linden viburnum (V. dilatatum). Drupes are bright, cherry red September through October, sometimes drying and persisting into December when they look like withered red raisins. Its leaves also hold late and can turn a bronze or burgundy color.
Mapleleaf viburnum (V. acerifolium)is one of the smaller viburnums, growing 5 feet by 3.5 feet. Fall foliage is beautiful, ranging from pink to orange to purple. Fruits are black, often remaining into the winter. It can grow in almost full shade and, unlike most viburnums, can also tolerate dry conditions.
Viburnum ‘Copper Ridges’ also has beautiful fall foliage; it begins copper and changes to a deep maroon.
Though its foliage doesn’t tend to take on fall color, the dark green, leathery leaves of lantanaphyllum viburnum, (V. x rhytidophylloides)persist into winter. The cultivar ‘Alleghany’ has somewhat smaller and even more persistent foliage. Fruits turn from bright red to black. The deeply ridged foliage of ‘Willowwood’ also may persist into the spring.
Leatherleaf viburnum (V. rhytidophyllum) is aptly named for its sturdy leaves with deep wrinkles. Planted in a protected micro-climate, it may remain green all winter. Fruits are red to black and hold into December. This species is tolerant of hot, dry, sunny locations.
Here’s a few other characteristics and preferences you might want to keep in mind in selecting a viburnum. If the site is in heavy shade, mapleleaf and arrowwood viburnum are good choices. For dry soils, possibilities include nannyberry and mapleleaf. Arrowwood viburnum can withstand heat better than most varieties and if the site is wet, European cranberrybush viburnum will do well.
To attract wildlife, the fruits of nannyberry, Koreanspice, arrowwood, Sargent and American cranberrybush