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A Staple Shrub - Mapleleaf Viburnum
by Mark Weathington

Viburnums are certainly one of the staple shrubs of many home landscapes and rightfully so. Their excellent flowers and bright fruits make them indispensable in the plant palette. Often overlooked, however, are the beautiful native viburnums. The mapleleaf viburnum is one such plant. Excellent foliage, nice flowers and striking fruit make this plant a winner for a shady spot in the garden.

Mapleleaf viburnum, as its name implies, has leaves that are reminiscent of a red maple. The foliage stays mostly clean and blemish free throughout the growing season, and the bold texture and mild green color make an excellent backdrop for other flowers and fine-textured plants such as fern and columbine. In the fall, pale pink to dark burgundy tints bring the plant alive. There are not many selections of mapleleaf viburnum, so fall color can vary from plant to plant. Creamy white flower clusters 2 to 3 inches wide appear in late spring to early summer, making a welcome addition to the shady garden. Fruit begins to form by late summer. The one-quarter to one-third of an inch fruit starts bright red before turning black. Birds love to feed on the ripe fruits and will often strip it bare within a few weeks of ripening.

Looking at this viburnum’s natural range gives a clue about its adaptability. It grows naturally from Canada down to Georgia. It is a valuable addition to the informal woodland garden since it grows well in deep shade and dry sites. Once established, mapleleaf viburnum will tolerate fairly severe drought although this may cause it to abort its fruit. It will grow in full sun if given adequate water, but the foliage becomes paler and more susceptible to some scorching than if given some protection from the afternoon sun. A partially shaded site with moist, well-drained soil is ideal. Propagation is easy with cuttings taken in early to midsummer, or seed sown fresh.

Viburnum acerifolium works best in naturalistic or informal plantings such as woodland edges and bird habitat gardens. It grows to about 5 to 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, but will occasionally sucker to form wider colonies. It should be planted in a space where it is allowed to develop to its full size since pruning rarely improves its form. Other dry-shade-tolerant plants such as fairy wings (Epimedium spp.) and Mrs. Robb’s spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides robbiae) form nice carpets around its ankles, while grape hollies (Mahonia spp.) and oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) make bold companion shrubs.

With its ease of culture, multiple seasons of beauty and songbird attraction, mapleleaf viburnum is a no-fuss addition to the garden. Perhaps the most dreaded of garden conditions, dry shade, can be turned into a focal point instead of a bedraggled eyesore with its clean foliage, excellent fall color and showy fruits.

Common Name:  Mapleleaf viburnum

Botanical Name:  Viburnum acerifolium

Color:  White flowers, pink to orange burgundy fall color, red fruits turning to black

Blooming Period: May through June

Type: Deciduous, flowering shrub

Size: 4 to 6 feet tall by 4 feet wide

Exposure: Full to partial shade

When to Plant: Spring or fall

How to Plant: Keep the soil at the same level as it was in the pot, planting 3 to 4 feet apart.

Soil: Adaptable to most soils.

Watering: Water deeply at least once per week until established, then only during extreme droughts.

When to Prune: Late winter or early spring. Only prune uneven, crossing or dead branches.

In Your Landscape: Use in difficult spots such as under large trees or on shady hillsides. Use in plantings with asters, beautyberries and other bird-food sources to attract wildlife.

Posted March 2011


Mark Weathington is Assistant Director and Curator of Collections, JC Raulston Arboretum.



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