How to grow viburnum
Prized for their flowers, fragrance or fruits – or all three – these popular shrubs provide interest across the seasons. Deciduous or evergreen, large, medium or small, viburnums are easy to grow and versatile, with options to suit every garden
- Easy-to-grow shrubs of all sizes
- Most like sun, but some are happy in shade
- Many have fragrant flowers and colourful fruits
- Evergreen or deciduous options
- Smaller, scented types are ideal in patio containers
- Evergreen species work well as flowering hedges
All you need to know
What are viburnums?
Viburnums are popular flowering and fruiting shrubs in all sizes and are either evergreen or deciduous (so they lose their leaves over winter). Most are robust, versatile and easy to grow, and there are options to suit all soil types, in sun or shade.
The small flowers, usually held in clusters, are often fragrant. They range in colour from white to cream to shades of pink, and appear at various times of year, depending on the species. Attractive berry-like fruits often follow, and some provide colourful autumn foliage too.
Finding the right viburnums for you
There are so many excellent viburnums to choose from that it can be hard to know where to start. So to narrow down the choices, consider what you want from your plant:
Although many viburnum flower in spring and early summer, some are noted for being winter flowering and early spring flowering
The flowers are usually small and held in clusters. V. plicatum cultivars offer particularly showy flowerheads, either flat-topped, like lacecap hydrangeas, or rounded like snowballs
If you grow two or more of the same species (to ensure cross-pollination), many viburnums will produce clusters of ornamental berry-like fruits in autumn. The choice of colours includes red, pink, black and blue. These are often a valuable food source for birds in winter.
Some viburnums keep their leaves all year round, providing valuable structure and screening.
Many viburnums lose their leaves over winter, and some offer vibrant autumn foliage beforehand.
Hedges or ground cover
There are 25 Viburnum species and cultivars with an RHS Award of Garden Merit, which shows they performed well in RHS trials, so are reliable choices.
To browse photos and descriptions of viburnums, go to RHS Find a Plant. You can search by ultimate size, flowering time, growing conditions, RHS Award of Garden Merit and more, to help narrow down your choices.
Always check plant labels or
Gardeners often use the word variety when referring to a specific plant, but the correct botanical term is 'cultivar'. Whichever word you use, it means a distinctive plant or plants, given a specific cultivar name and usually bred to enhance certain characteristics, such as flower or fruit size, colour, flavour or fragrance, plant size, hardiness, disease resistance, etc. Additionally, it is worth knowing that, botanically, variety has another meaning - it refers to a naturally-occurring distinct plant that only has slight differences in its looks. For example, Malva alcea var. fastigiata differs from typical plants by having an upright habit.
The snowy-white spring flowers and glossy red fruits of Viburnum opulus not only bring colour to the garden, they can also be used for indoor displays too.
How and what to buy
Use RHS Find a Plant to track down stockists of specific Viburnum species and cultivars.
When to plant
- Deciduous viburnums, which lose their leaves over winter, should be planted from autumn to early spring, as long as the ground isn't very wet or frozen. This gives them plenty of time to settle in before any hot, dry summer weather
- Evergreens, which keep their leaves all year, are best planted in early spring or autumn
Viburnums can also be planted at other times, but try to avoid hot or dry spells, as they may struggle to establish. Take particular care to water regularly.
Where to plant
- Most viburnums like an open, sunny site
- Some species, such as Viburnum davidii, V. rhytidophyllum and V. × bodnantense, are also happy in shadier positions
How to plant
Planting a shrub is quick and easy, but worth doing carefully to ensure it settles in well and thrives for years to come.
Follow our guides for step-by-step advice:
You should water newly planted viburnums regularly for their first year or two, especially in dry periods.
Even once established, shallow-rooted viburnums, especially many summer-flowering species, may need watering during summer if the soil dries out.
Evergreen viburnums are usually more drought tolerant and don’t generally need additional watering once established.
Water: collecting, storing and re-using
RHS video guide to watering efficiently
Feeding and mulching
Viburnums need little or no regular feeding in most garden soils.
However, to encourage strong new growth, you can feed them annually in early spring. Simply sprinkle a general fertiliser such as Growmore or fish, blood and bone around the plant at the rate recommended on the packet.
Many viburnums require little or no pruning, although most can be pruned if they outgrow their space. A few are best pruned annually to keep them well shaped and flowering strongly.
- Little or no pruning – Viburnum carlesii, V. × carlcephalum, V. × juddii, V. plicatum
- Little or no pruning needed, but they can be hard pruned to regenerate them – V. opulus, V. × burkwoodii, V. davidii
- Prune annually after flowering – V. × bodnantense and V. farreri, removing up to a third of the old wood at the base; V. tinus and V. rhytidophyllum, to control height and shape
RHS Pruning groups
RHS beginner's guide to pruning
If pruning in spring or early summer, always check the shrub for active birds' nests before you start, and delay pruning if you find any.
Most viburnums can be grown from cuttings, which can be taken at various times of year.
- Take between mid-summer and autumn
- Place cuttings in a heated propagator to root
- Suitable for: Viburnum tinus, V. davidii, V. rhytidophyllum, V. × burkwoodii, V. opulus
- Take between late spring and mid-summer. For V. × carlcephalum and V. carlesii take early in the season
- Dip cuttings in rooting compound and keep warm and humid, ideally in a heated propagator
- Suitable for deciduous viburnums: V. × bodnantense, V. × burkwoodii, V. farreri, V. × juddii, V. opulus, V. plicatum
- Take from late autumn to winter, after the leaves have fallen
- Cutting should be 10–15cm (4–6in) long, and pencil thickness
- Suitable for deciduous viburnums: V. × bodnantense, V. farreri, V. opulus
Pests and diseases
Viburnums are generally robust and vigorous shrubs, however there are a few specific pests that may attack certain species:
- Viburnum beetle – V. tinus and V. opulus
- Viburnum scale and Viburnum whitefly – V. tinus
- Viburnum aphids – V. opulus and V. carlesii
All viburnums are susceptible to honey fungus and fungal leaf spot.
- Drought conditions – can cause problems in summer for many shallow-rooted viburnums, especially the summer-flowering species. Water them regularly while the ground is dry
- Prolonged winter wet and cold – V. × bodnantense flowers in winter and the delicate blooms can be damaged by adverse weather. In prolonged wet spells, flowers may turn brown and rot, and harsh frost may also turn them brown. Plants usually produce more blooms, and you can pick off affected flowers to improve the appearance if you wish
If you are a member of the RHS, you can use our online Gardening Advice Service, via MyRHS, for any gardening problems and queries.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.