If you’re looking for an attractive shrub that is native to New England and a good food source for birds don’t overlook the American Cranberry Bush, also called Highbush Cranberry (botanical name Viburnum trilobum). Several of these may be found in the upper part of Kirkwood Gardens, on the driveway side.
This hardy, deciduous shrub grows to about 15 feet high with a width of 12 feet. The leaves are dark green and have an attractive shape with three lobes, similar to the grape, which makes for interest when neither flower nor fruit is seen. Spring flowers are white and shaped like a flattened lace cap (as with many viburnum). In fall the leaves turn a lovely red or burgundy, while the bright, red berries are edible and last throughout much of the winter. Grouse, pheasant, and birds such as the cedar waxwing, cardinal, and robin enjoy the berries, particularly in late winter when other sources of food may be scarce.
Several cultivars of V. trilobum can be found including Compactum, which is the most common, but has the one disadvantage in that the fall color is yellow rather than a handsome red. Bailey Compact is a more dwarf form (but it does grow to 6 feet) and the fall foliage is red. Alfredo is the newest of the cultivars; its form is more compact and the fall foliage is a good red. Hahs is even more dwarf with larger fruit. Wentworth was cultivated to produce large edible berries for jelly and jam making. Early in the season the berries will be rather tart but are full of pectin; later, after hard frosts, they become sweeter.
Planted three feet apart, viburnum can be grown as a tall attractive hedge. You should shape and prune after flowering to keep it from becoming leggy. Left alone, it requires little maintenance and is mostly trouble free. If you do choose to add a viburnum to your garden, choose a location that is somewhat moist and well-drained, in either sun or part shade. Plant early enough for the roots to take hold before winter (September or October would be best).
- the hole needs to be ample (two or three times the width of the root ball)
- fill hole with a mixture of compost, soil, and peat
- add a bit of bone meal, but no fertilizers to encourage new growth (wait until spring to do that!)
- make a hole in the mix for your new shrub, placing it so that shrub’s soil level will be even with surrounding soil level
- pack the soil firmly around the roots or root ball (take off any root wrapping)
- water in well so any air pockets are removed
- be sure to continue watering your new shrub until weather turns cool and winter dormancy approaches
- add a leaf mulch or bark chips for winter protection