Snowball - Scented flowers in the middle of winter

© Tina Gössl / pixelio
Even if it’s not snowing, this early bloomer brings snowballs to your garden. If it’s freezing, it will stay cheerfully green to welcome you into early spring in a joyous mood.

Snowball, also known as Viburnum, belongs to a diverse family of shrubs. There are varieties that remain green in winter, semi-evergreens and varieties that lose all their leaves. To compensate for that leaf loss, the bare branches bear sprays of pale pink flowers from November to March. Those flowers are beautifully scented and cope well with frost: a spectacular combination. Generally speaking, the later the flowering the larger the flowers will be. Viburnum either has a second flowering in the autumn or it will produce beautiful red, blue or black berries at that time of year.
On average, the plant reaches a height of around three metres. However, there is also a dwarf variety which reaches a height of about one metre and a giant that can easily top six metres! With leaves that also change colour beautifully in the autumn, this garden bloomer has something special to offer in every season, both in a bed and in containers, tubs and pots. It’s the ideal pick-me-up for the first - and often rather dull - garden months of the year.

Viburnum is a member of the moshcatel family and occurs in the temperate and subtropical regions of the northern hemisphere. The Latin name Viburnum is derived from the word ‘vincia’ - ‘to bind’ - because of its tough, flexible stems which were used in the past to tie things together and for wickerwork. The shrub spread across Europe from the Mediterranean region. 

The berries help birds get through the winter, but are not edible for humans.

Caring for viburnum

  • Viburnum cannot cope well with drought, so spray regularly.
  • The plant needs a lot of food in order to achieve its best performance; ideally feed it a little every month.
  • Only prune if it’s really necessary, and then in late summer after flowering.
  • Viburnums prefer acid, nutrient-rich soil which is rich in humus.
  • Can tolerate both a light and partially shady spot; not suitable for full shade.
  • Evergreen varieties look their best in a sheltered spot.

In China, viburnum is often planted around temples: the fragrance is an extra tribute to the Buddha.
In prehistoric times viburnum’s long straight branches were used as arrow shafts. This was revealed by the discovery of Ötzi the Iceman, whose mummified 4000+ year old body was found in the Alps. His quiver was full of straight, light branches from this shrub.

American garden guru Michael Dirr says: “A garden without viburnum is like a life without music or art.” Source: FCH

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