Japanese Snowball

Japanese Snowball Viburnum plicatumVirtues: We love Japanese snowball bush (Viburnum plicatum) for its lovely white spring flowers, lush green summer leaves, reddish fall foliage and lovely branch structure, which shows up beautifully in winter. This viburnum attracts birds with its red-to-black late summer fruit.

Common name: Japanese snowball, doublefile viburnum

Botanical name: Viburnum plicatum, Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum

Flowers: Japanese snowball bush blooms profusely in mid- to late spring, with white flowers held in flat-toped clusters, called cymes, reaching 4 inches wide. On many varieties the cymes contain showy, 5-petaled infertile flowers that surround small, visually insignificant fertile flowers. Small oval fruits mature in late summer, turning from red to black. Birds love the fruit of this viburnum.

Foliage: Medium green, oval, deciduous leaves with toothed edges and prominent veins. The underside of the leaf is darker green and fuzzy in texture. Fall foliage of this viburnum is reddish purple.

Japanese Snowball Viburnum plicatumHabit: Doublefile viburnum grows 8 to 10 feet tall. It is wider than it is tall. This viburnum is a deciduous shrub with strongly horizontal branching. The branch pattern gives it an interesting layered, ladder-like appearance in winter when the branches are bare.

Season: Spring for flowers, fall for colored foliage, winter for interesting form.

Origin: Viburnum plicatum is native to China and Japan.

Cultivation: Grow this viburnum in moist but well-drained soil and full sun to part shade. Prefers acid soil but will adapt to various pH. Japanese snowball does not do well in poor or compacted soil. The straight species, Viburnum plicatum, is sterile; it flowers beautifully but will not set fruit. If fruit set is desired, plant two or more different cultivars of the variety Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum near each other. Tolerates drought once established, though the leaves may wilt in hot, dry periods. Prune right after flowering, if necessary—however, site the shrub so that restrictive pruning will not be necessary, to avoid ruining the beautiful branch pattern of this viburnum. USDA Zones 5–8.

Read about witherod viburnum, Viburnum bodnantense or more deciduous shrubs with multiple seasons of interest.

Learn how to keep trees and shrubs healthy with The Homeowner’s Complete Tree & Shrub Handbook.

Find more beautiful shrubs for your garden with Great Flowering Landscape Shrubs.

Choose more shrubs with winter interest in Wonders of the Winter Landscape: Shrubs and Trees to Brighten the Cold-weather Garden.

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5 thoughts on “Japanese Snowball

  1. I have a doublefile viburnum about 3.5 ft tall for probably 5 years now. It has not bloomed yet. I have tried superphosphate, good mulching. It says it can take part shade which is what it gets. I have a burkwoodii viburnum planted the same time with the same light situation that blooms every year. I consider this my ultimate challenge to get the doublefile to bloom. I am in NJ zone 6 but on a hilltop that is pretty winding with woods all around. Any thoughts or tips???

  2. My mother has a very old snowball bush (doublefile all sterile blooms, rounded like snowballs, Viburnum plicatum). I would love to have one in my yard and wanted to try to root a piece. It is much more difficult than other shrubs. Any suggestions? Is there a trick?

    • They are very easy to root. Sometimes you can just stick a cut branch in the soil an it will root or secure a branch from the shrub to the soil and a root will form where it touches the soil. You can also root in water, but I have never found it necessary. Good luck.

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