While few would complain about the beauty of the Piedmont in late winter through spring, there is a case to be made for greater diversity in the landscape. Some beauties get overlooked in the race to plant more azaleas and dogwood trees as well as their supporting cast of forsythia, spiraea and redbuds.
The viburnums are among the spring-flowering shrubs that should not be overlooked when the search is on for something beautiful but a bit different. Most viburnums produce white flowers, some with a hint of pink, and make large, long-lived shrubs.
While many kinds of viburnum exist, three are special favorites: the Chinese snowball, the doublefile viburnum and Korean spice viburnum. The first two develop into what I call traffic stoppers, meaning the plants in bloom are just that gorgeous. The third is valued as one of the finest scents in the landscape.
While any or all of these would be great additions, your choice may depend on the space and sunlight you have.
The Chinese snowball, botanically named Viburnum macrocephalum, grows into a tall, vertical plant that can reach 12 to 15 feet and blooms best in full sun. Remarkably, it grows well in an exposure of summer afternoon sun, a spot that is hard on many landscape beauties. The spring flowers are stunning globes that emerge with a hint of palest green, maturing to snow white. The show lasts about three weeks, typically in April.
I gave mine a good spot by the curb many years ago and it is seen easily by people passing by. For much of the year, this plant does not get much notice. Nor does it require much attention; for 20 years, it has caused me no problem. After bloom, it retreats into anonymity, and that is something to think about when you are making choices for your most public spots.
The double file viburnum, Viburnum plicatum tomentosum, is one of the outstanding flowering shrubs for our landscapes. Also a mid-spring bloomer, it produces layers of branches that bear flattish clusters of white flowers. The plant grows 8 to 10 feet tall and about that wide, so it requires a good spot in sun or part shade. It works when planted, like a dogwood, under a tall canopy or at the edge of a woodsy area. Unlike the Chinese snowball, it should be kept away from the hottest summer exposure and watered in dry weather. Alas, I lost one in the very dry years of the past decade because it was planted in the face of summer afternoon sun.
Two of the popular named varieties are Mariesii, which is pretty common, and Shasta, which can spread even wider than its 12 foot height. So plan for space with Shasta.
A third choice, Korean spice, deserves planting if only for the great scent of its spring flowers. Smaller than the others, reaching 4 to 8 feet over time, it makes an attractive roundish shrub. The flowers start out as reddish-pink buds, very pretty, then open to white and produce the distinctive fragrance.
A number of varieties exist, such as Compactum, which should stay under 4 feet. This is also trouble-free in part shade or planted away from summer afternoon sun.
Q. So many things are blooming early this year. Should I be worried?
A. You’ve seen the forsythia I bet. It is out really early and the spiraea are also starting to open. Provided it does not get too cold, they should be fine. And you could always cover them with a sheet on nights it is really cold. Buds should not be affected. My camellias took a hit with the early January deep freeze but the buds remained fine and have opened beautifully.