Viburnum Opulus 101: How to Grow This Stunning “Snowball Bush”

Written by Hannah Miller. Reviewed and Fact Checked by Elizabeth Smith. Published to Spring Plants. Updated: 19th February 2023.

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Viburnum opulus is a species of plant from the Adoxaceae family and the “Roseum” is the most popular cultivar with showy globe-like blooms that have earned the plant the nickname “snowball bush”.

I am a huge fan of this bush, so much so that I’ve added it to my list of favourite spring plants.

I grew this shrub at my previous home, and I was rewarded with dozens, and dozens of white pom-pom blooms from May into June, but the interest was maintained throughout the year as the foliage turned a delightful reddish-purple in autumn.

Key points:

  1. A reliable space filler: I’ve seen viburnum opulus grow up to 4 metres high and wide.
  2. Full hardy, fast-growing and easy to maintain.
  3. Grow as hedging, screening or a feature, the snowball bush produces ball-shaped flowers that are versatile and eye-catching.

Other cultivars of Viburnum opulus have flatter flowerheads but are otherwise very similar.

Size

Viburnum opulus grows to:

Height: Up to 4m (13′)

Width: Up to 4m (13′)

Type

Type

Deciduous: Loses its leaves in the winter

Growth icon

Growth

Reaches full size in around 7-10 years

Difficulty

Easy to grow but mature specimens will need a yearly prune

Native

Europe, North Africa and Asia

Location

Moderately fertile soil that is free-draining

Sunlight

Grow in full sun, partial sun, dappled or in light shade

Hardiness

US zone 3-8 and hardy in all parts of the UK

Water & Feed

Water regularly until established and then only in hot summer conditions

Companions

Hydrangea, azaleas and rhododendrons, lilac

Planting

Ideally when the soil is warm in autumn or spring but also possible in the summer

Flowering

Typically in May and June but early bloomers may put on a show in late April

Closeup of Viburnum opulus (Snowball Bush)
Clusters of white flowers on Viburnum opulus, aka the snowball bush

Viburnum Opulus Growing Guide: How to Grow Opulus

How and When are Viburnum Opulus Sold?

When I grew viburnum opulus, it took three years before I saw any flowers, so look for plants that are mature enough, which will typically be those in 5 litre+ pot sizes.

Where is the best location for viburnum opulus?

I’ve found that they aren’t fussy at all, and they will thrive in a sheltered or exposed spot in full sun, dappled, partial or light shade.

As far as I know, some even bloom in full shade, although to be on the safe side, I suggest choosing a spot with at least some sunlight.

At my previous property, this shrub grew several metres high, so do think carefully about placement.

How should the soil be prepared?

This shrub prefers moderately fertile soil that’s free draining, so dig in organic matter to improve the ground conditions if required.

I used to apply a thick layer of fertile mulch each year, and it responded well.

How much water or fertiliser do viburnum opuluses require?

Fertiliser isn’t required if a yearly mulch is put down, I never used any and I was still rewarded with huge blooms.

I suggest watering well until the shrub is established but beyond this I never found it required any special care.

How tall and wide will this shrub grow?

A viburnum opulus can reach over 4 metres tall and wide but the potential depends on the ground conditions and amount of sunlight. At my previous property, it grew to 3 metres at a rate of just under half a metre a year.

How should viburnum opulus be pruned and deadheaded?

There is no need to deadhead this shrub.

Also, young viburnums shouldn’t be pruned at all as it will only slow down their progress.

The following is based on my experience:

Pruning option 1: Mature specimens can be pruned by cutting off one-third of the growth and forming a neat, rounded shape where possible. This is best done immediately after flowering has finished.

Pruning option 2: Alternatively, prune mature plants yearly by removing no more than 1 out of every 5 stems. Look for weak branches or those that are out of shape, prune off at the base after flowering to encourage new shoots.

I found that viburnum opulus recovered quickly from pruning and I’m confident they will recover well, even if one-third of the stems are pruned off.

Do viburnums suffer from any pests and diseases?

I never had any issues with viburnums which I found are tough shrubs that resist most pests and diseases.

Watch out for:

Powdery mildew on the leaves – this can be remedied by improving the airflow around the plant, removing affected leaves and by avoiding overhead watering.

Viburnum Beetle – telltale signs are lacy-looking leaves resulting from the beetle eating its way around the leaves. Thomson & Morgan have published a helpsheet including photos here.

When does viburnum opulus bloom and how long for?

More and more shrubs are coming into bloom earlier due to climate change. The University of Cambridge recently reported that many plants in the UK are flowering a full month earlier than they did 35 years ago.

Traditionally, this shrub flowered in May and June, but I was seeing it coming into bloom in late April some years.

The flowers should last a few weeks, and I’ve never seen any damaged by wind or rain.

Can viburnum opulus be propagated?

Yes, and I tried propagating them by softwood stem cuttings I took during the growing season. I found that the rooting time was about four weeks, and about 25% of the cuttings I took survived.

Hardwood cuttings can be used instead, but I’ve been told the success rate is lower and may take longer.

Is viburnum opulus toxic or harmful to humans and pets?

No toxicity has been reported.

Source.

Is this shrub beneficial to wildlife?

Viburnum opulus is very beneficial to bees, butterflies, other pollinators, birds and beneficial insects.

Can viburnums be grown in pots?

Viburnum opulus is a fairly large shrub, reaching up to 4 metres in height, and while it’s possible for a gardener to grow in a container, it might not be practical.

The best option is Viburnum opulus variety “Bullatum”, which reaches 60cm (2′)

Smaller, dwarf varieties such as Mapleleaf viburnum and David viburnum might be more suitable.

While mature viburnums are fairly drought tolerant in woodland and suitable gardens, they will need more frequent watering if grown in pots.

Try These:

Viburnum Opulus Roseum Snowball Tree 3-4ft Supplied in a 7.5 Litre Pot by DirectPlants™
Viburnum opulus 'Roseum' 15cm Pot Size
Viburnum Opulus Roseum Snowball Tree 3-4ft Supplied in a 7.5 Litre Pot by DirectPlants™
Viburnum opulus 'Roseum' 15cm Pot Size
Viburnum Opulus Roseum Snowball Tree 3-4ft Supplied in a 7.5 Litre Pot by DirectPlants™
Viburnum Opulus Roseum Snowball Tree 3-4ft Supplied in a 7.5 Litre Pot by DirectPlants™
Viburnum opulus 'Roseum' 15cm Pot Size
Viburnum opulus 'Roseum' 15cm Pot Size

At a Glance:

Here are 10 key points for anyone growing viburnums opulus for the first time:

  1. Expect a showy display of white, fluffy blooms in spring, which is complemented by reddish-purple foliage in autumn.
  2. Viburnums are unlikely to flower in the first 2-4 years, so buy mature plants where possible.
  3. They aren’t fussy about exposure but prefer sunlight, partial shade or dappled shade.
  4. They tolerate a wide variety of soil types.
  5. Water well until established when they should be fully drought tolerant, except for potted viburnums, which will require consistent watering.
  6. Don’t prune young plants, but once established, prune yearly, either by removing one-fifth of the stems at the base or by pruning the entire plant by up to a third.
  7. Viburnums will usually recover from a very hard prune.
  8. They will respond well to yearly mulch but don’t need fertilising beyond this.
  9. Opulus is the showiest viburnum, but there are several similar varieties.
  10. They make lovely cut flowers. As I can attest to!

Viburnum Companion Plants

I’ve been experimenting with different companion plants over the years and below are a few suggestions:

Alternatives

Other varieties of viburnum opulus have flatter and less showy blooms but are worth considering.

Hydrangea arborescens “anabelle” is a completely different species that flowers after viburnums but also has round globe-like blooms.

Problems, Pest and Diseases

I found viburnum shrubs to be tough and require little care and attention once established, but here are solutions to some common problems:

1) Viburnum Not Flowering

This is usually caused by one of the following:

  1. The plant is still young and isn’t mature enough to produce blooms. My shrubs took several years of growth before they bloomed, hence why gardeners should buy established plants from reliable growers.
  2. Too much shade – once established, this shrub should bloom reliably; if they don’t, it could be due to a lack of sunlight.
  3. Too much water – viburnums only need extra watering if potted or during the first few months after planting. They dislike soggy conditions and may refuse to bloom if grown in waterlogged soil.

2) What is Eating Viburnum Leaves?

Shredded leaves are a tell-tale sign of a viburnum beetle infestation, but I’ve never had issues with this pest.

3) Leggy Stems With Few Flowers

Once established, viburnums grow reasonably quickly and can become leggy and sparse if not pruned now and again.

Elizabeth Smith’s Viburnum Pro Tip

Here is a quote from Elizabeth Smith, a qualified horticulturist:

Viburnums don’t have a great reputation in the UK, they are often used in landscaping around residential areas but don’t be put off, the “opulus roseum” is the showiest cultivar and the fluffy pom-pom flowers bloom reliably.

This shrub is also incredibly easy to grow and is usually self-reliant once established.

Elizabeth Smith

More Photos

Two white viburnum blooms
Closeup of viburnum flowers
Bright white viburnum blooms with green foliage
Viburnum opulus cut flowers

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This guide was reviewed and fact-checked by qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith.

Explore: Elizabeth's profile and qualifications.

Meet The Author: Hannah Miller

Hannah is a keen gardener who grows organic fruit and vegetables in her Surrey garden and is moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle. 

She is also the proud grower of a dahlia and herb garden.

Hannah worked for the NHS for 12 years but also has a level 3 qualification in horticulture and is currently studying for her level 4.

More About Hannah Miller

Hannah Miller

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This viburnum growing guide was published by DIY Gardening

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