Want to get your spring garden off to the earliest possible start? Include Viburnum farreri in your planting designs. This viburnum is the earliest of the fragrant viburnum shrubs to flower, opening blooms when spring frosts are still knocking on the garden gate. Viburnum farreri releases a sweetly spicy perfume from its flowers, like the other fragrant viburnums.
Native to mountainous areas of China, Viburnum farreri is hardy in Zones 5 to 8. Viburnum farreri is actually kind of unusual in colder regions because of its susceptibility to frosts. Because this viburnum shrub flowers so early, it’s important to choose its planting spot carefully, especially in the colder reaches of its hardiness range. If you plant it in a location that warms early in spring, blooms may pop open sooner than they should, fooled by the extra warmth. Then, when a late spring frost hits, the flowers would be destroyed.
It’s worth planting, though, because it can extend the flowering season of your garden by a few weeks — and add some wonderful fragrance, too. The trick to dodging frosts is to keep Viburnum farreri away from warm locations, such as a southern exposure or a brick wall that absorbs sunshine. Avoid using a stone mulch beneath it, so the rocks don’t radiate heat and coax lower buds to openly prematurely.
The flowers on Viburnum farreri start as pink buds that open to reveal white or pink blooms, depending on the variety. Viburnum farreri ‘Album’ unfurls white blossoms, while Viburnum farreri ‘Nanum’ displays pink blooms. Once flowers are open, they’ll survive temperatures as low as 20 F, but anything lower damages petals and turns them to mush.
Viburnum farreri grows 6 to 9 feet tall by 5 to 7 feet wide. It grows to form a nicely rounded shrub that easily holds its own as a specimen shrub or blends easily into a mixed shrub border. Plant several to create a hedge. Give Viburnum farreri a spot in full sun to part shade with well-drained, slightly acid soil. Using chopped oak leaves to mulch plants each year can help maintain an acid pH.
The fall color on Viburnum farreri tends toward red to burgundy. Flowers can fade to form fruits, which shift from red to black when ripe. Fruits are rare on this viburnum because late spring freezes often zap them. Also, Viburnum farreri flowers so early that there aren’t other viburnums around to help with pollinating the blooms, which is necessary for fruit formation to occur.