Viburnum Obovatum

Tap into the native beauty and easy-growing nature of Walter’s viburnum.

By: Julie A Martens

Discover one of the Southeast’s beautiful native viburnums. Walter’s viburnum, known botanically as Viburnum obovatum, hails from the Southeastern Coastal Plain, which extends from South Carolina to Florida and West to Alabama. Viburnum obovatum takes well to pruning, produces handsome evergreen leaves and blooms in late winter.

Viburnum obovatum is something of an oddity in its growing range. It’s native to Zones 8 and 9, but grows readily in Zones 6 and 7. Landscapers report it also does well in Zone 10. It’s a popular landscaping plant in Florida yards, prized for its native adaptability. Viburnum obovatum grows equally well in full sun to part shade to full shade, although plants positioned in full sun open more flowers and have a denser branch structure.

Walter’s viburnum blooms in late winter to early spring, opening slightly fragrant white flowers arranged in semi-spherical clusters. When blooming, the plants are completely covered in flowers with blossoms so numerous they nearly hide the leaves. Viburnum obovatum flowers early in the growing season, making it a terrific food source for pollinators like native bees, honey bees and other beneficial insects.

If the flowers are pollinated, Viburnum obovatum forms berry clusters. The berries shift from red to black when fully ripe, which usually occurs by late summer. Birds and other wildlife feed on the berries. On the whole, Walter’s viburnum makes an excellent choice for a wildlife, pollinator-friendly or bird garden.

Viburnum obovatum has a dense branching structure that provides good shelter and nesting areas for birds. The plants grow with multiple stems and occasionally in the wild form a single trunk as they age. In a home landscape, Viburnum obovatum responds well to pruning, and many gardeners prune it to create a single trunk tree.

This early flowering viburnum shrub typically grows in the 6 to 15 foot range, although native plants in the wild have been measured at 30 feet tall. There are a few dwarf selections of Viburnum obovatum. ‘Mrs. Schiller’s Delight’ is the one to plant as a boxwood substitute. It grows to 3 feet tall and is an ideal choice for a formal hedge that’s pruned frequently. Both ‘Densa’ and ‘Whorled Class’ grow to 4 feet tall.

Once established, Viburnum obovatum is drought tolerant, although in the wild it typically grows in swampy or moist settings. The most important time to water is for the first six to 12 months after planting. During this time, water Viburnum obovatum regularly so that it can sink deep roots.

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