Leatherleaf Viburnum (Viburnum rhytidophyllum)
Viburnums [vi-BUR-nums] are very easy to grow. They are represented by many species of shrubs and small trees many of which are ideal for residential yards. Most viburnums offer ornamental interest almost year round. They boast showy blossoms, berries and interesting foliage. Leatherleaf viburnum is the hardiest of the evergreen viburnums. As befits its name, it has a somewhat coarse leaf. Its tolerance of considerable shade is also a major asset.
Size: Leatherleaf viburnums are large shrubs. They are likely to reach 8 to 10 feet in height at maturity. Their spread will be 6 feet or more. They are moderately slow growers so that it may take almost 10 years to reach maximum size.
Foliage: Their leathery, wrinkled leaves are the most distinctive feature of this plant. They are a dark lustrous green above, a pale fuzzy gray to brownish below and they droop limply from their stems. Deeply etched veins give the foliage its coarse, crinkly appearance. From 3 to 7 inches long and 1 to 2 1/2 inches wide, individual leaves are oblong and grow in pairs, one opposite the other along the stems. Leatherleaf viburnums retain all their leaves during the winter in southern states, while in the North they are semi-evergreen.
Flowers and Fruit: In the late spring clusters of tiny ¼-inch flowers appear at the ends of leatherleaf viburnum branches. These abundant flat-topped flower clusters may be from 4 to 8 inches across and their creamy yellow color creates an attractive effect. They are mildly fragrant. Large bunches of flower buds then form in late summer for the following spring. Resembling a loose head of cauliflower, these buds winter over under the protection of felt-like covers. In the fall the current season's flowers give way to oval red berries beloved by local songbirds. They last well into the winter, eventually turning black. To encourage plentiful berries, plant several of these shrubs near each other.
Leatherleaf viburnum Choices
`Willowwood' is a more compact hybrid form, flowers again in the fall; `Mohican' is also a hybrid form, compact, long-lasting fruit, semi-evergreen; `roseum' has pinkish buds, but they open as yellowish-white. `Alleghany' is a hybrid featuring stout, upright branches and a dense, rounded form.
Using Leatherleaf Viburnum
Leatherleaf viburnums are upright shrubs that are especially attractive in a shrub grouping or as a background planting for other flowering shrubs. They blend well with other broadleaf evergreens. In a row, they effectively screen unsightly walls or fences. Do not site leatherleaf viburnum in exposed windy sites.
Planting Leatherleaf Viburnum
The Right Place
Leatherleaf viburnums grow well from the Florida border north to the Ohio Valley, into southern Pennsylvania and along the Atlantic seaboard through New England (Zones 5 to 8). They are comfortable in all but the very coldest parts of the country where temperatures go below -10 to -20° F, and in the warmest areas, such as Florida and southern Texas. In severe winters near its northern limit, this viburnum may be killed to the ground, but it will sprout again from the base in the spring.
Leatherleaf viburnums grow best in places sheltered from wind and winter sun, and can tolerate heavy shade. For this reason they do well in northern exposures of buildings or within the shade of several trees. They prefer a well-drained soil that is a bit acid (pH 6.0 to 7.5) and slightly moist.