Snowball Viburnum

Celebrate old-fashioned charm with the nostalgic blooms of snowball viburnum.

By: Julie A Martens

Photo by: unknown

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Fill spring scenes with floral snowballs, courtesy of snowball viburnum. The round flower clusters on this viburnum shrub bring charm and elegance to any setting. Japanese snowball viburnum flowers in spring and has deeply veined and pleated leaves. Eastern snowball viburnum is another spring bloomer but has trilobed leaves that resemble maple leaves. Either snowball viburnum delivers a show — these viburnums don’t disappoint.

Japanese snowball viburnum has, as the name suggests, a connection to Japan. That’s the first place this snowball viburnum bush was spotted in a garden setting. Botanically, Japanese snowball viburnum is known as Viburnum plicatum. It’s an easy-growing shrub that thrives in full sun to part shade.

The species name for Japanese snowball viburnum, “plicatum,” means pleated or folded, which describes the leaves on this beauty. The leaves are strongly veined and have an almost ruffled appearance. During the growing season, snowball bush viburnum has green leaves that provide a beautiful backdrop to the spring flower show. As fall arrives, leaves shift from green to burgundy and purplish red. With Eastern snowball viburnum, the leaves have three lobes and no pleats. Fall color is eye-catching, with green leaves turning bright orange-red. 

The snowball blooms open in mid-spring, with the white flowers arranged in spherical clusters. On Japanese snowball viburnum, the blossom balls measure two to three inches across. With Eastern snowball viburnum, flowers burst into their glory late spring to early summer and measure up to 3 inches across. As the snowball blossoms fade, the color shifts from white to pale pink, which lingers through summer.

Eastern snowball viburnum is sold under two names commercially. You might find it listed as Viburnum opulus ‘Sterile’ or Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum.’ The ‘Sterile’ version is usually sold as Eastern snowball viburnum bush, while ‘Roseum’ is sometimes listed as European cranberrybush or European viburnum snowball bush. If you know you want this plant, one way to make sure it’s the flower form you want is by buying it in bloom.

Both Japanese snowball viburnum and Eastern snowball viburnum grow in full sun to part shade. They prefer well-drained soil with average moisture. Once these bloomers are established, they show some drought tolerance, but providing consistent moisture assures the best flower show. If plants need pruned, tackle the task right after blooming to avoid reducing flower bud numbers for the next year’s blossoms.

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