For a versatile large shrub or small tree, consider an evergreen
viburnum. Fall is a prime time to plant.
One of the most popular is Viburnum tinus, pictured above. Its
dense habit makes it a good choice for small gradens as a hedge, screen,
or container plant. Another widely sold variety is leatherleaf viburnum
(V. rhytidophyllum). Its rangier habit makes it better suited for big
gardens as a screen, espalier, or single showoff plant.
Plants of V. tinus reach 6 to 12 feet tall; leaves are an
attractive deep green with wine red veins on their undersides. In
summer, blue-black berries follow flowers, often overlapping blooms.
V. tinus is also available in dwarf forms, including
‘Compactum’, which stays under 6 feet tall. V. tinus
‘Spring Bouquet’ is nearly identical, but has glossy green
leaves that are more mildew resistant, an advantage where cool, humid
climates favor that disease.
V. tinus wants to be a multitrunked shrub and fights back if you
try to train it as a small tree. But to do so, select a plant with one
primary leader and cut off lower branches up to the point where you want
it branch out.
Gardeners who like V. rhytidophyllum appreciate its rugged,
trouble-free habit. But critics feel that its many stiff, upright stems
and large coarse leaves combine to make it gawky. Also, in cold
weather, the leaves sometimes hang straight down. Both of these
varieties grow in many climates. V. tinus can be grown from western
Washington to the intermediate deserts (where it should be located in as
cool a spot as possible). In coastal climates it is susceptible to
mildew. V. rhytidophyllum does not like desert living, and its large
leaves may get tattered where conditions are very windy.
Viburnums do best with ample water, but V. tinus prefers soil that
isn’t soggy. Both can tolerate some drought and do well in either
sun or shade. Pruning the base regularly to a few upright stalks helps
keep viburnums shapely. If aphids, mites, and scale attack, control
them before populations get out of hand. Hose foliage occasionally to
help dislodge such pests. Use a spray of liquid soap and water, or
insecticide if needed.