Viburnum Macrocephalum

Shine the spotlight on a stunning floral favorite, Chinese snowball viburnum.

By: Julie A Martens

Bring on the charm with a Southern favorite, Chinese snowball viburnum. This old-fashioned beauty holds its own in many Southern yards, opening softball size blooms in spring. Botanically speaking, Chinese viburnum is Viburnum macrocephalum. The flowers resemble hydrangea blossoms, but this shrub is one hundred percent viburnum.

Like other viburnum shrub, Chinese snowball viburnum is a low maintenance addition to any landscape. It grows with few demands, and once it’s established, it’s drought tolerant. Viburnum macrocephalum is versatile in the landscape, able to segue easily from specimen shrub in the spotlight to part of a mixed border plant chorus.

One of the best ways to showcase Chinese snowball viburnum is planted in groups to form a hedge. In that arrangement, Viburnum macrocephalum really shines. The larger than life flowerheads command attention and add color for several weeks, lasting longest in regions with cooler summers. Chinese snowball viburnum flowers open in clusters that are more or less softball size—roughly 5 to 8 inches across.

The globes of bloom first open in shades of green, then fade to cream before finally turning white. Because the color progression happens with each individual blossom in the cluster, you’ll often see every hue present in one Chinese snowball viburnum flower cluster. These flowers are all sterile, which means that no fruit forms when the blooms fade.

Even though no fruits are present to beckon birds, the dense branching does lure birds to Chinese snowball viburnum for nesting and resting. Many kind of insects flock to the blooms to harvest nectar. Leaves remain evergreen to semi-evergreen in southern locations, while Viburnum macrocephalum plants in areas with colder winters drop leaves in fall.

Chinese snowball viburnum is hardy in Zones 5 to 8. It’s a Southern classic, but can also grow in colder places like Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and parts of the Midwest. In the more northern locations where winter brings on the cold, place Chinese snowball viburnum in a protected location to help prevent drying by winter winds. Give plants soil that’s acidic and moist but well-drained.

Plant size in viburnum macrocephalum varies based on where it’s growing. In general, Chinese snowball viburnum grows 6 to 12 feet tall and wide. In warm Southern and western locations it grows much larger, up to 15 to 20 feet high. This viburnum takes well to pruning, and many gardeners remove lower branches to create a single trunk or tree form Chinese snowball viburnum.

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