When to Prune Viburnum Bushes

Updated February 21, 2017

Viburnum bushes, also called hobblebushes, are ideal choices for hedges, property borders, and as anchor plants in ornamental plantings. With abundant, gracefully-shaped leaves, colourful fall foliage, fragrant blooms and vivid winter berries, viburnums add beauty and interest to lawns and landscapes all year. They are easy to care for, but do need some pruning, performed at the proper times. With a little basic knowledge, you can keep your viburnum bush shaped up and healthy.

Viburnum Features

There are more than 150 species of viburnum. All of them flower in the spring; depending on the species, the blossoms can range in colour from white to rose-pink. The shapes of the flowers are also various; they can hang down in panicles, form snowball-like clusters, or extend upward from the twigs. The fruit can be red, yellow, blue, or black, and adds splashes of colour to winter landscapes. A type of viburnum known as the American cranberry bush features red fruit that resembles cranberries; for berries that turn dramatically from pink to green to red to the colour of ripe blueberries, choose a smooth witherod viburnum bush. If you like the sight of bright yellow berries, the Michael Dodge cultivar features lemon-yellow fruit, perfect for a fall garden. Viburnum can attain reach 15 feet tall and wide; pruning can help keep the shrub manageable.

Care and Pruning

To make sure your viburnum thrives, plant it in rich, well-drained soil, in an area that gets full sun --defined as six hours or more of sunlight -- to light shade. Near a house is ideal; the fragrance will waft through open windows in the spring. Nourish the shrub by applying compost every spring, spreading it out as far as the dripline -- the place under the tips of the outer branches where rainwater would drip to ground. Add a 2-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture, control weeds, and protect roots in winter.

To encourage blooming and plentiful branches, prune in late winter or early spring, before new growth appears. Use the thinning technique, in which you remove a few branches all the way back to the trunk, to let light and air into the interior. Thin dead and diseased branches first, but don't be afraid to remove a few live ones. After the bush flowers, prune again to keep it in proportion. Pinch off the stem tips of young plants to promote branching, and shear with a hand or electric shears to the desired shape.

Tips and Precautions

With so many species of viburnum, it stands to reason that their fragrances vary, too. Most viburnum have pleasant fragrances when they bloom, but the scent of others can strike some people as disagreeable or even rancid. Before investing in a viburnum, visit an arboretum where viburnum are blooming to sample different scents.

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