Even as winter approaches, viburnums are brightening up the landscape in a variety of ways, and each species has its own unique contributions. My favorites at this time of year have brightly colored berries (unless already devoured by birds), semi-evergreen leaves and interesting branching habits.
Since there are about 120 species of viburnums and even more cultivated varieties of those species, there truly is a viburnum for just about every place. I think Pat Lechtenberg would agree: Her East Lawrence garden contains six different varieties of viburnums, each with its own admirable characteristics.
Lechtenberg’s favorite viburnum right now is called Summer Snowflake (Viburnum plicatum). The leaves of this compact upright shrub are showing brilliant hues of fall color, and Lechtenberg says it is even more beautiful in the spring when it is covered in creamy white lacecap-type blossoms. The shrub gets its name from continued sporadic blooming throughout the summer and is 3 to 5 feet tall at maturity.
The Allegheny viburnums along the property line are my favorite. Allegheny is a cross between leatherleaf viburnum and another species, with deep green leaves and a mature height of 8 to 10 feet that make this plant a nice choice for a screen.
“They really keep the leaves on a long time,” Lechtenberg says, and then pauses to admire the large shrubs before asking, “They really are gorgeous, aren’t they?”
Lechtenberg also points out how well the bright yellow fall color of a Fothergilla shrub contrasts against the deep green of the Alleghenys’ leaves.
In a little shadier part of the yard grows an Arrowwood viburnum called Blue Muffin. The plant produces pea-sized blue berries, which Lechtenberg says have become a quick favorite of the birds that reside in her neighborhood. Blue Muffin is a little smaller than most Arrowwoods, topping out at 3 to 5 feet tall and wide.
A close cousin to Blue Muffin and another of Lechtenberg’s favorites is Chicago Lustre (also an Arrowwood viburnum).
“Its berries are already gone, too,” Lechtenberg tells me, and I think I will have to visit earlier than the birds next year if I want to see the fruits in full glory. Chicago Lustre will tolerate sun or shade and matures at 5 to 10 feet tall depending on the growing conditions.
Lechtenberg has two other viburnums that she likes a little less — one with a sporadic growth habit and another that is dying a bit at a time. The one that is dying is a puzzle to both of us — viburnums have very few insect or disease problems and can generally tolerate a wide range of soil and moisture conditions. But, like any experienced gardener, Lechtenberg isn’t getting too worked up about these less-favored plants.
The emeritus Extension Master Gardener offers a bit of advice from her own experience. “If it doesn’t look good or isn’t doing well, I take it out and plant something else. You can’t get hung up on trying to save something.”
I’m hoping she’ll try some more viburnums.
— Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension Agent — Horticulture and can be reached at 843-7058.