Plant of the Month: Dawn Viburnum for Winter Color and Fragrance

Dawn Viburnum in late October
Dawn Viburnum foliage and blossoms in late October.

Even in our mild Pacific Northwest climate there aren’t many shrubs that bloom during the dark winter months. One of the exceptions is Bodnant Viburnum, Viburnum ×bodnantense. The cultivar we have in our garden, and the one you’ll find most often in the nursery trade, is ‘Dawn.’ For us, it begins blooming in late October and continues to open fragrant pink blossoms through February.

I notice the fragrance most on calm winter mornings when the aroma seems to cling to the moisture in the air, greeting me with sweet fragrance when I step off our front porch to retrieve the morning newspaper.

Dawn Viburnum blossoms
Dawn Viburnum blossoms.

Pale pink tubular flowers, typical of members of the honeysuckle family, grow in clusters near the branch tips. The more sun the plant gets the more it will bloom. I’ve noticed that when we get a serious cold snap the blossoms turn brown, but once the weather warms up above freezing then fresh flowers will open.

Dawn is a well-behaved medium-sized shrub that grows best in full sun and accepts a range of soils as long as drainage is sufficient. That means a higher and drier site is preferred in our winter-wet climate. Established plants will top out at about eight feet with an attractive vase shape. We prune ours lightly when it’s in bloom, bringing fragrant branches inside to enjoy. Like many other shrubs, the best pruning to thin and control size is to remove entire branches at the ground. Taking a hedge trimmer to this graceful shrub would be a crime.

Dawn Viburnum blossoms against blue sky
Dawn Viburnum blossoms against blue sky

Viburnum bodnantense is a Great Plant Pick. Tom Fisher, formerly editor at Horticulture and now at Timber Press also wrote about Bodnant Viburnum. Find his comments at Overplanted.

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