Elton M. Smith, Ohio State University Extension
The viburnums are one of the most outstanding group of shrubs for use in the landscape planting. Among their characteristics are variation in size from 2 to 30 feet, varied growth habits, excellent foliage, striking and fragrant flowers, showy fruit and interesting winter appearance.
In the landscape, viburnums are effective in many situations. The smaller forms such as the Viburnum carlesi ‘Compacta’ and V. opulus ‘Compactum’ are excellent for planting close to houses, and the larger forms such as V. lantana and V. prunifolium provide good specimen and screen planting.
The flowers, primarily white in color, are borne in clusters, ranging from a rounded snowball shape to a flat form. The large, white snowball clusters of sterile florets are found on V. carlcephalum and V. macrocephalum sterile. Semi-snowball or half-round forms are borne on such types as V. carlesi and V. burkwoodi. Most of the others have a flat cluster of both sterile and fertile florets such as V. plicatum ‘Tomentosum,’ V. dilatatum, etc.
In the fall there is a second season of ornamental value. Of the red fruiting types, V. dilatatum, V. opulus and V. trilobum are among the best. Others like V. dentatum and V. lentago have blue fruits attractive to the birds but not as colorful as the red. V. lantana and V. prunifolium are examples of those with changing fruit color as they ripen from green through pink or yellow to blue-black.
Foliage is excellent. Included are types with a velvety smooth leaf surface, bold rough-veined texture and glossy leathery character. In addition, some forms have attractive fall color such as the purplish red of V. dentatum and V. dilatatum. V. opulus is a brilliant red in autumn.
In addition to the aesthetic features, viburnums are hardy, resistant to serious pests, adaptable to a variety of soil and environmental conditions and require little pruning. They will grow in either sun or shade; however, flowering and fruiting will be more profuse in a sunny situation.
Some recommended viburnum species or cultivars for Ohio
V. burkwoodi - Burkwood Viburnum
Upright in habit, this species matures at 6 feet, with semi-snowball, fragrant, pink to white flowers in early spring. The fruits turn from red to black and the foliage, which is glossy, holds late into winter.
V. carlesi ‘Compacta’ - Compact Koreanspice Viburnum
This cultivar is compact and rounded in form, reaching 4 to 5 feet at maturity. The flowers are small, fragrant, semi-snowball, changing from pink in bud to white blossoms in early spring. The leaves are velvety-gray, and the fruit is blue-black.
V. dentatum – Arrowwood
This is a native species that will mature in an upright rounded shape at 12 to 15 feet. It will withstand heavy shade and moist soil conditions. The flowers are flat, white clusters in mid-spring, and the fruit is blue-black.
V. dilatatum – Linden Viburnum
This species matures at 8 to 9 feet, with flowers occurring in late spring in flat, white clusters. It’s one of the best of the fruiting types with numerous, colorful, small red berries. Cultivars ‘Erie’ and ‘Oneida’ are improved forms.
V. juddi - Judd Viburnum
Maturing at about 8 feet, this cultivar is spreading and rounded in habit. The flowers in early spring are semi-snowball, changing from pink in bud to white. The fruit is black.
V. lantana - Wayfaringtree Viburnum
This species has an upright spreading form reaching 15 feet that lends itself to use in screen plantings. The flowers in mid-May are creamy-white, flat clusters. The fruit is greenish-yellow, changing to red and finally black. This is an excellent shrub for dry soils. The hybrid ‘Mohican’ is an improved type.
V. lentago - Nannyberry Viburnum
This native species will mature at 30 feet and can be grown into a tree form. It’s often used as a background planting, screen or foreground along the edge of woodlands. The flowers in mid-May are flat, white clusters, and the fruit, a favorite of birds, is blue-black.
V. opulus - European Cranberrybush Viburnum
Upright and spreading in habit, this plant matures at 8 to 10 feet, with excellent flat, white clusters of flowers in mid-May and numerous red fruits holding late into autumn. A compact form with similar characteristics matures at about 3 feet. The cultivars ‘Compactum,’ ‘Nanum,’ ‘Notcutt’ and ‘Xanthocarpum’ each has desirable characteristics.
V. plicatum ‘Tomentosum’ - Doublefile Viburnum
This is an excellent, horizontal spreading form, maturing at 8 to 10 feet, with excellent flat, white clusters of flowers in mid-May. Red fruit in mid-summer and red fall color add to its attractiveness. A more compact form, V. plicatum ‘Tomentosum Mariesi’ - Maries Double File Viburnum - has larger flower clusters; therefore, the flowers and fruits are more conspicuous.
V. prunifolium - Blackhaw Viburnum
At maturity this upright-rounded plant reaches 15 feet. The flowers in mid-spring are in flat white clusters. The fruits are up to 1/2 inch long and blue-black. It is an excellent plant as a specimen or for massing.
V. rhytidophylloides “Allegheny”
This is a semi-evergreen, fairly large plant reaching 10 feet that has yellowish-white flowers in May. In September and October the fruit turns red before becoming black.
V. trilobum - American Cranberrybush Viburnum
This viburnum is upright, rounded in form, maturing up to 12 feet in height. The white clusters of flowers occur in mid-spring. The excellent red fruit holds late into the winter.
Source: Ohio State University Fact Sheet HYG-1062-88