My Favorite Spring Flowering Shrubs - Viburnums

Posted: March 10, 2015

As we gaze upon the awakening landscape at this time of year, we dream of the wide array of flowers, shrubs and trees in our gardens. In the shrubs category, viburnums fall into “my favorite” species for many reasons.


They flower every year (unlike the more finicky hydrangea macrophyllas), and their blossoms are often followed by colorful fruit for the birds. They are nearly pest free, and many varieties have outstanding fall color. Most importantly, they bloom reliably in my Zone 5, shady garden. What class of shrubs can speak to that?

Michael A. Dirr, noted horticulturist, expert on woody plants, and author of many garden books, says “A garden without a viburnum is akin to life without music and art.” I tend to agree because these wonderful shrubs perform so well and are not a maintenance nightmare. I was fortunate to have attended his seminar at Fordhook Farm in Doylestown seven years ago when his book on viburnums was newly released. He recommended his favorite viburnums for Eastern Pennsylvania, three of which I promptly planted in my garden (photographs below) and they have performed extremely well for me.

Japanese Snowball 1.  V. plicatum f. plicatum ‘Popcorn’

– Also called Japanese Snowball, this late spring flowering 5 x 4 foot shrub gets covered with “popcorn-like clusters.” Fall color is an attractive red to burgundy and this viburnum can be grown in full sun to part shade. It is also a good shrub for heat and drought tolerance.

2.  V. x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’

Mohawk- This viburnum has a striking fragrance of spice as its attractive reddish buds, which can last for two weeks or more, open into white snowballs about mid-May. The sweet scent is so strong it can be detected a great distance before reaching the shrub. The shiny, dark green foliage turns a pretty orange-red in autumn.

3.  V. plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’

- Perhaps my very favorite viburnum because its outstanding flower display (photo left) steals the show in late May before other flowers and shrubs in the garden show their color. This large shrub is followed by an outstanding red berry display in mid-July (photo above right), although devoured by birds, especially cardinals and robins, shortly thereafter. ‘Shasta’ finishes the season with a beautiful burgundy fall display, mimicking the color of the weeping red maple in the foreground.


You will not be disappointed with these three choices, although there are many, many more from which to choose since the species is so large. By selecting easy-care viburnums for your gardens, you will enjoy their multi-season interest and have more time to appreciate the beauty of the needy spring garden awakened after its long winter’s nap.

Sources:  Viburnums for the Pennsylvania Landscape

Dirr, M. A. 2007. Viburnums: Flowering Shrubs for Every Season

Jean Kolojejchick, Luzerne County Master Gardener