Chinese Snowball Viburnum and Other Snowball Bushes

Generations of southerners have welcomed Chinese snowball viburnum, Viburnum macrocephalum 'Sterile', into their gardens. With multitudes of flower clusters up to eight inches across, this classic shrub is a thing of beauty when it blooms.

This semi-evergreen shrub grows in hardiness zones 6-9 in full sun to partial shade, though it may need protection from hot afternoon sun in the most southern regions. My own Chinese snowball viburnum gets full sun until about 2P.M., after which it is in the shade.

Chinese snowball viburnum reaches 12 to 20 feet tall and wide with a dense round form, so it needs to be sited where it will have space to grow. It can be trained as a small tree, and it makes a wonderful specimen. It also fits well into a woodland garden. It blooms on the previous season's old wood, so it should be pruned for shaping soon after it finishes blooming. That is also the best time to fertilize. It likes acidic, loamy soil that is moist but well drained; however, it will adapt to a wide range of soil conditions. It is a low maintenance shrub that is rarely bothered by pests or diseases. 

The plant usually blooms from late April through early May, though bloom time is later in more northern regions. The flower clusters start out lime green, then mature to pure white. The flowers are not fragrant, but they do attract butterflies. They are sterile, so there is no danger of invasiveness. As beautiful as the blooms are in the garden, they also make outstanding cut flowers. 

There is sometimes confusion about the identity of this shrub. It is often mistaken for hydrangea, for the blooms resemble those of Hydrangea arborescens, also called Annabelle hydrangeas, as well as Hydrangea paniculata, also called PeeGee hydrangeas. Chinese snowball viburnum is a member of the Caprifoliceae family, while hydrangeas are a members of the Hydrangeacea family. Some of the differences:

Chinese snowball viburnum has smaller leaves than hydrangeas.

Chinese snowball viburnum is a larger shrub than Annabelle hydrangea, which only grows 4-6 feet.

Chinese snowball viburnum has round flower clusters, while PeeGee's are cone-shaped.

Chinese snowball viburnum prefers a sunnier location than the hydrangeas and is more drought tolerant. 

Chinese snowball viburnum blooms earlier and has a shorter bloom time than the hydrangeas, though sometimes it will have some late summer blooms. 

Chinese snowball viburnum blooms on old wood and should be pruned soon after blooming, while Annabelle and PeeGee, which bloom on new wood, are best pruned in late winter or early spring.

Be aware that other shrubs are also called Snowball, including the mophead types of Hydrangea macrophylla, the previously mentioned Hydrangea arborescens and Hydrangea paniculata and also two other types of viburnum: Viburnum opulus, which is also called as European cranberry bush and guelder rose; and Viburnum plicatum, the Japanese snowball. 

So when looking for a snowball, remember that not all snowballs are the same. It really helps to know the Latin!




All Kinds of Glory

The earth reveals all kinds of glory. Azaleas are blooming and Japanese maples have unfurled their brilliant leaves in the front garden. The woodlands are becoming a tapestry of green and white as fresh foliage emerges and dogwood blossoms open. Birds are making babies, my onions are poking up in the vegetable garden, the days are longer, the breezes are exhilerating and good smells permeate the air. Such are the dreams of spring that kept me through winter's dismal clutch on the landscape, and they have finally come true. 

The following scenes greet me as I wander through the garden, taking it all in:This Japanese maple is in the front garden, outside our dining room window.

An April view of the front garden from the patio

Another view of the front garden from the patio

Looking toward the patio from the front lawn

Another view across a portion of the front garden from the front lawn

Looking toward the wooded area next to the arbor garden

Looking across the woodland garden from the front lawn

Dogwoods in the woodlands

Top: Magnolia 'Jane' continues to bloom beautifully, despite last week's brief temperature plunge below freezing. Many of the blooms turned to brown mush, but new ones quickly took their place. Clockwise from above left: Magnolia 'Jane'; Apple 'Red Delicious' blooms; Phlox subulata grows behind an unidentified wildflower;Trillium cuneatum, also called Sweet Betsy.

The last daffodils of spring. Did you see the tiny hover fly in the top photo?

Mockingbirds are nesting in this rustic birdhouse in the front garden. The evergreen tree in the background is Cryptomeria japonica.

Spring was a long time coming this year, but I doubt that means the same of summer with its high humidity and heat. Meanwhile, I plan to enjoy every day of this glorious season! 

Note: Pease check out my revised Woodland Garden photo gallery on the sidebar, which includes newly updated woodland garden photos PLUS photos of individual woodland garden plants. Enjoy!