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Florida native plant is a good choice year-round

Published January 29, 2007


Walter's viburnum is a Florida native plant with clusters of white that blooms early in February, about the same time as red bud trees. The wild plant can grow from 6 to 25 feet tall. Gardeners prefer a more compact shrub that needs little pruning to maintain its shape. It would be great if the blooming season were longer or several times a year, too.

Enter plant breeders. In recent years, selected cultivars have been bred that remain dense, small shrubs and have extended or multiple flowering times. In groups, Walter's viburnum cultivars make a compact screen or hedge. Mix them in the shrub border along with anise, azaleas, camellias, loropetalum and Schelling's holly.

Native viburnum cultivars are a better choice than fast-growing exotic species that need sheering every month or two. Sheering generally prevents flowering, so no berries, fruit, nuts or seeds are produced.

Walter's viburnum is adapted to Florida's hot, wet summers and dry winters. It does well in stressful areas like highway medians and parking lots. Native to coastal and river plains from South Carolina, Alabama and throughout Florida, Walter's viburnum is cold-hardy from zones 6 to 9. The cultivar form is a dense, neat, semi-evergreen in Citrus County to deciduous shrub in north Florida.

In the wild, the native form becomes a small tree with a spreading, cross-branched, twiggy crown ideal for bird nest sites.

It performs best in moist to wet, somewhat acid locations. Enrich sandy soil with compost and give it weekly irrigation. Exposure is full sun to shade but it will be less dense with fewer flowers in the shade.

While a Walter's viburnum in the wild may live as long as 50 years, it is very slow-growing. Cultivars in a 6-inch pot may be 2 years old yet cost about $4. Ten-inch pots retail around $8. The cultivars are selected to bloom longer and more often than the pure native. White, five-petaled flowers surround five yellow stamens. Flowers are small, borne in showy clusters of flat-topped heads.

Leaves are dense, apposite, small to about 11/2 inches long and widest near the middle. Some leaves may have small marginal teeth especially near the tip. The rough bark is reddish-brown and divided into small plates.

Summer fruit is a flattened oval berry that turns from red to black at maturity. Birds and other wildlife feed on the fruit and disperse seed. The shrub provides nest sites and ample cover from predators, particularly marauding cats.

Cultivars include "Densa," "Mrs. Schiller's Delight" and "Whorled Class." Each grows to about 4 to 6 feet tall in 10 years or so. Companion plants include flowering trees such as red maple, red bud, dogwood, red buckeye, fringe tree and magnolias, shrubs, dwarf palms and perennial flowers.

For a splash of white flowers among late winter azaleas, camellias, red bud and flowering plums, a gardener can do no better than plant a Walter's viburnum cultivar.

Editor's note: This weekly article is provided by Jane Weber, professional gardener, grower, consultant, designer and environmentalist. Visit her Certified Florida Yard and Backyard Wildlife Habitat, 5019 W Stargazer Lane, Dunnellon. Call (352) 465-0649.

[Last modified January 29, 2007, 06:26:47]

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