Selecting the Best Viburnum for Your Garden

I’ve got two different varieties of viburnum growing in my garden. Viburnum opulus (often referred to as a Snowball viburnum) and Viburnum plicatum (sometimes called a Japanese snowball). Unfortunately, one is not the right plant for the right place.

Viburnum opulus in my garden.
Viburnum plicatum in my garden.

My 2020 garden mantra is “Do No Harm”. That can mean a lot of things. To me, it means looking out for the critters that live in our garden and providing the safest environment possible. I don’t want to spray harsh chemicals that can kill beneficial insects or negatively impact the water supply. Basically, if I need to wear protective gear when I use it, it’s not the right product for our garden.

The garden presented its first challenge to upholding the “Do No Harm” mantra this spring. My Viburnum opulus has viburnum leaf beetle, Pyrrhalta viburni 1/ This pest is native to Europe. They start as larvae that grow into beetles. They are an incredibly destructive pest, and they are not easy to control using organic methods.

Viburnum leaf beetle larvae feeding on the leaves of Viburnum opulus.

According to the University of Wisconsin website, the Viburnum leaf beetle came to Canada in 1947. It’s now scattered throughout the United States, including my backyard.

“When selecting viburnum plants for the landscape, DO NOT use arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), European cranberrybush viburnum (Viburnum opulus), or American cranberry bush viburnum (Viburnum opulus var. americanum) as these types of viburnums are strongly preferred by VLB. Instead use resistant viburnums such as doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum), Judd viburnum (Viburnum x juddii), or Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii).”

University of Wisconsin advice to deal with Viburnum leaf beetle
My Viburnum opulus is the wrong plant for my garden.

My Viburnum plicatum isn’t bothered by this pest. Clearly, this is the better viburnum for my garden. It’s important to select the right plant for the right place. I shouldn’t need to spray and tend to plants non-stop in order for them to survive.

Viburnum plicatum
Viburnum plicatum in the garden.

I will continue to try to control this pest organically during this growing season. If I can’t, the Viburnum opulus will be removed and replaced with something else. Perhaps another ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud tree will take its place.

Update 2021: I was unable to organically control the viburnum lead beetle and made the decision to remove the tree. I planted an Emerald Green arborvitae in its place.


1/ University of Wisconsin Madison horticulture department article.

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