By Julie Christensen
Blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) is one of those low-maintenance trees that you can put in the ground and count on to thrive. Native to the eastern and central United States, blackhaw viburnum tolerates most soil types, so long as the soil is well-draining. It has an open, multi-stemmed form and greenish red foliage that becomes deep red or purple in the fall. Blackhaw viburnum also has attractive white, lacey blooms in the spring, followed by edible purple berries in the fall.
Planting Blackhaw Viburnum Trees
Blackhaw viburnum thrives in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, meaning that it can be grown in most parts of the U.S. It’s widely available at nurseries and garden centers. Blackhaw is usually grown as a multi-stemmed shrub, although it can be trained as a single trunk tree. It grows up to 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide, so choose a roomy place for this long-lived shrub to spread.
Amend the soil with compost or manure before planting to improve drainage. Blackhaw tolerates both sun and partial shade, although it will bloom better in full sun. Plant blackhaw outdoors in spring or early fall for best results. Water the soil well immediately after planting.
Growing Blackhaw Viburnum
Blackhaw viburnum is a cinch to grow. Fertilize it in the spring with ½ cup 10-10-10 granular fertilizer, spread in a 3-foot circle around the base of the shrub. Although blackhaw is somewhat drought tolerant, it does better if watered occasionally. Water every week or so during dry weather and mulch the soil with wood chips or bark to conserve moisture.
The white flowers typically appear from late spring to early summer, depending on your climate, followed by berries that ripen from pink to purple over the course of the season. If you need to prune blackhaw viburnum, prune it immediately after it blooms. This shrub’s blossoms form on one-year old wood, and it starts producing the buds for the coming year soon after blooming.
Blackhaw viburnum has an irregular, somewhat mounding shape and doesn’t need a lot of pruning. In most cases, it’s best to let it take its natural form. Prune only to remove dead or diseased wood or canes that are rubbing against each other. You can also prune the tips back slightly if necessary to control growth. Overzealous pruning will encourage suckering and lots of vertical canes.
Pests and Diseases
Blackhaw viburnum rarely suffers from insect or disease problems, although it is prone to rot in soggy soils. Good drainage can prevent that. In humid climates, you might occasionally notice powdery mildew, but healthy shrubs can fend off most diseases.
Blackhaw viburnum planted en masse makes a fine privacy hedge if you have the room, but it is more often grown as a specimen plant or placed in a mixed bed. The flowers attract bees in the spring and birds love the berries in the fall. The berry-like drupes are edible for humans too. Their slightly bitter flavor is tamed through cooking, so they’re usually reserved for jams and preserves.
Chances are, blackhaw viburnum will grow beautifully in your yard. If not, though, you’ll find over 150 viburnum species. There’s sure to be one that fits your gardening needs. Below is a round-up of a few other viburnums worth trying.
- Rusty blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum) is native to the South and might grow better here than blackhaw viburnum. Rusty blackhaw tolerates shade and drought. It grows 18 feet tall or more and has glossy green leaves and pale blue fruit.
- Most viburnums are large plants, growing 12 to 18 feet tall, but Viburnum opulus ‘Nanum’ is a compact variety that remains under 3 feet tall.
- Prague viburnum (V. ‘Pragense’) is an evergreen viburnum with lush, waxy leaves.
- Most viburnums aren’t fragrant, but a few have sweetly scented blooms. Try Burkwood viburnum (V. X burkwoodii), known for its fragrant flowers. ‘Anne Russell’ has pink flowers and red fall foliage.
For more information on viburnums, visit the following links:
Blackhaw viburnum tree on YouTube.
Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.