How To Tell Snowball Bushes Apart: Is It A Snowball Viburnum Bush Or Hydrangea

The problem with using common plant names instead of the tongue-twisting Latin names that scientists assign them is that similar-looking plants often wind up with similar names. For instance, the name “snowball bush” can refer to a viburnum or a hydrangea. Find out the difference between viburnum and hydrangea snowball shrubs in this article.

Snowball Viburnum vs. Hydrangea

The old-fashioned snowball bush (Hydrangea arborescens), also called Anabelle hydrangea, produces large clusters of flowers that start out pale green and turn white as they mature. The Chinese snowball viburnum bush (Viburnum macrocephalum) is similar in appearance and also produces flowers that start pale green and age to white even though the two plants aren’t related. If you’re wondering how to tell snowball bushes apart, take a look at these characteristics:

  • Snowball hydrangea shrubs grow 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 m.) tall, while the viburnums grow 6 to 10 feet (1.8 to 3 m.) tall. If you’re looking at a shrub that is well over 6 feet (1.8 m.) tall, it is a viburnum.
  • A snowball viburnum bush won’t tolerate a climate colder than U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 6. Snowball bushes growing in colder climates are probably hydrangeas.
  • The hydrangeas have a much longer bloom period than the viburnums, with blossoms remaining on the shrub for as long as two months. Hydrangeas bloom in spring and may rebloom in fall, while viburnums bloom in summer.
  • Hydrangeas have smaller flower heads that seldom exceed 8 inches (25.4 cm.) in diameter. Viburnum flower heads are 8 to 12 inches (25.4 to 30 cm.) across.

These two shrubs have similar requirements: they like light shade and moist but well-drained soil. Viburnum can tolerate drought in a pinch, but hydrangea is insistent about its moisture.

The big difference is in the way the two shrubs are pruned. Cut hydrangeas back hard in late winter. This encourages them to come back lush and leafy in spring. Viburnums, on the other hand, need pruning right after the flowers fade. If you wait too long, you could lose next year’s beautiful flush of flowers.

Snowball Bush

The Original Snowball Bush

An amazingly ‘SHOWY’ addition to any landscape; the Viburnum macrocephalum, more commonly known as the ‘Chinese Snowball Bush’, is beautiful and easy-to-grow. The flowers emerge a striking lime-green in late spring and gradually turn to snowy-white in mid-May; they retain their green color for several weeks before turning to cream and then to white.

At full maturity, the ‘Flower-Balls’ resemble brilliant white pom-pom’s, reaching up to 8-inches wide. The ‘Chinese Snowball Bush’ will bloom in mid-spring for weeks on end.

The Viburnum Macrocephalum is a sterile plant (producing no fruit) so all of its energy goes into blooming and . . . Does it ever!!! A relative of the honeysuckle, the 8-inch flowering clusters are made up of an abundance of delicate 1-inch flowers. The clusters resemble the blooms of the Hydrangea plant.

Best of all, this particular variety will provide a longer & more profuse BLOOMING SEASON than any other plant in its family. The foliage of the ‘Chinese Snowball’ is a brilliant dark green with 2″-4″ leaves that have a ‘saw-toothed’ edge; they are stunning against the stark white of the flowering clusters.

The ‘Chinese Snowball Bush’ can be trimmed to any size or shape; it can be sculpted into shrubs, hedges, borders and trees. Cut it back after flowering and prepare for another round of blooming; this incredible plant blooms on both, old and new wood.

The Viburnum Macrocephalum is an extremely hardy variety that is resistant to bacterial leaf spot and powdery mildew, unlike its’ relatives. If you are looking for an incredible ‘point-of-interest’ for your landscape, you have found it in the ‘Chinese Snowball Bush’.

  • Insect & Disease Resistant
  • Showy Clusters of ‘Flower Balls’ (up to 8 inches wide)
  • Repeat Bloomer
  • Carefree
  • Provides Bountiful Cut Flowers
  • Deer Resistant
  • Non-Invasive Root System
  • Heat & Drought Tolerant
  • Attracts Butterflies

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Planting & Care

Snowball Bush (Viburnum macrocephelum ‘sterile’) is a very showy, flowering ornamental that flowers in the early to mid spring depending on your location. The huge flowers start out lime green and turn a creamy white as the season progresses, starting to bloom in mid April and can last through June. Typically planted in USDA growing zones 6-9 (can also be successfully container grown) the Chinese Snowball bush are semi-evergreen in warm climates and fully deciduous in cooler climates. In warmer climates these will prefer afternoon shade to keep them out of the hot afternoon sun, but will thrive in full sun in cooler climates. Growing to an overall size of 12 feet tall/wide, these plants can be pruned to any shape or size after the blooming season.

Choosing a location: The Chinese snowball bush will perform well in either full sun or partial shade, depending on where you are located. In warmer climates, provide the plant with afternoon shade. In cooler areas, the snowball bush can take full sun. They prefer acidic, moist, well draining soil but can tolerate a wide variety of soil types.

Planting directions (In ground): Once you have chosen your location, it is time to plant.
1) Dig a hole that is 3 times the width of the container (the root ball), and just as deep.
2) Remove the plant from the container, lightly tapping it will help if the plant is stuck.
3) Gently comb the roots to loosen them, so that they spread out more quickly into their home.
4) Place the plant in the hole, so that the top of the rootball is even with the soil level.
5) Backfill with a mixture of 60% native soil and the remainder a quality compost or garden soil.
6) Water lightly every few inches as you backfill to remove any air pockets, water well when done, but do not saturate the area.
7) Mulch the area when done with a layer of mulch 2-3” thick and not quite touching the trunk of the plant. This helps to protect the roots from fluctuating temperatures as well as helping it to conserve moisture.

Planting directions (Potted): These plants can be kept in a container if you do not have room in your landscape.
1) You want to start the plants off in a container that is 1-2 sizes larger than the container it arrives in.
2) Use a quality, well draining potting soil to fill the container.
3) Remove the plant from the container and loosen the roots with your fingers.
4) Place the plant in the container so that it is at the same level that it was in the original container.
5) You will need to re-pot the plant about every season until the plant is in a container that is 20-24” across.

Watering (In Ground): The Snowball bush prefers moist, well draining soil, they don’t like to be saturated. Water the plants well after the soil has had the chance to dry out about 2 inches down. The frequency will vary depending on your climate and the weather conditions. They will need more water during times of excessive heat and drought. They will not need to be watered after they go dormant for the season or after the ground freezes.

(Potted): Water until the water flows through the drainage holes draining any excess from the catch tray if need. Allow the soil to dry about 2 inches down before watering again.

Fertilizing: Generally the snowball bush will not need a lot of additional fertilizer. To increase blooming, you can fertilize in the early spring with a high phosphorus fertilizer like bone meal or bloom booster. Look for the middle number of the formula to be higher than the others for the added boost of phosphorous (example: 5-25-10).

Pruning: Prune the snowball immediately after flowering for shape and to remove damaged or diseased limbs.

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Trimming a snowball bush


There are several ways you can prune the whole shrub. Dirr recommends pruning the whole thing back to 2-3 ft above ground in early Spring and have it grow back. I would do that only if it were getting too tall or crowded (you can remove the excess stems as they grow back)..

Another way of renewal pruning is to take out the oldest canes, no more than 1/3 of the total, every year. This is a good way to avoid a thicket of canes.

I found no information on pruning side branches to get a tree form, but one of the sources said you can prune anytime. It may be, if you prune out the oldest 1/3, you won’t have so much side-branching on the younger canes. You can certainly top it off, which will give you a thicker, more branched, top.

It may be that you are just fighting Nature by trying to keep the stems bare. Some plants just want to be the way they want to be. This shrub, though, seems like it can take some experimentation because you can always cut it all down if you don’t like what you did to it.

Best of luck.


Q: Several years ago my uncle gave me a snowball bush. It has bloomed several times and is beautiful in the spring. It needs pruning, but I don’t know when to do it. Brenda Deese, e-mail

A: I think you are referring to Chinese snowball viburnum, Viburnum macrocephalum. It has huge (4-8 inch) round, white flowers, borne on the ends of branches in early May. It blooms on twigs that grew the previous year, so pruning in fall or winter will remove next spring’s flower buds. You can remove some of the longest limbs now to reduce the size somewhat, but do any major pruning in June.

Q: Is it possible to grow a satsuma citrus tree in deep south Georgia, near Waycross? Joe F. Tovar, e-mail

A: It is quite possible to grow satsuma citrus in south Georgia. A few years ago a University of Georgia researcher planted several species and varieties of citrus at the Savannah Bamboo Research Station. ‘Owari’ satsuma performed very well. You could also try ‘Kimbrough’ cold-hardy satsuma. For variety, plant a ‘Thomasville’ citrangequat, a hybrid among trifoliate orange, sweet orange and kumquat. Details at

Q: A nice lady who owns a horse farm gave me a load of manure. I put it in a raised flower bed, which is 20-by-8-by-1-feet. The mixture is 80 percent horse manure and 20 percent dirt and sand. Eight of 10 shrubs I planted there died. There is a white powder on the roots. Randy Helms, Stockbridge

A: Horse manure is great for adding in moderate proportions to existing soil. However, it isn’t so beneficial when it is the major component of a growing medium. The manure holds too much water and plants die as a result. The white stuff on the roots is a harmless fungus doing its best to decompose the manure but it grows on the plant roots at the same time. Remove 80 percent of the contents of the bed, replace it with screened topsoil (not bagged topsoil) purchased from a landscape supply yard, and mix thoroughly. That should make a nice fast-draining soil for your plants.

Q: I have a large back yard covered with shrubs and trees. The hardwood trees drop their leaves several inches thick each year. In the past I have raked them up and put down pine straw but this is expensive. Can I use the leaves as mulch under the plants? Nancy Parker, DeKalb County

A: Leaves work very well as a mulch but when whole they do tend to fly around in the wind. Rake them into piles and shred them with a mower first. The smaller particles pack down and don’t move much.

Listen to Walter Reeves Saturday mornings on AM 750 and 95.5 FM News-Talk WSB from 6 to 10. Visit his website,, or join his Facebook Fan Page at for more garden tips.

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SERIES 18 | Episode 36

Viburnums are mostly native to Europe, America and North Asia, but they also grow well in Australia’s temperate regions. There are over 150 species and growing one of them will add interest and colour to your garden most of the year. They can be either deciduous or evergreen, but the thing that makes viburnums similar is the way the tiny flowers are clustered together, much like an umbrella. It’s called an inflorescence, or a corymb, and it’s where the pink, white or cream flowers are tightly packed together.

One of the most common viburnums is laurustinus or Viburnum tinus. It’s a really tough, evergreen plant. It originated in the Mediterranean and once established, can stand up to anything. It makes a great hedge, but needs a prune in spring. It has little clusters of tiny pink buds that open out into white flowers. It makes a fine shrub but is mainly grown as a great hedging plant. It grows well either in the sun or dense shade.

Other favourites are:

A hybrid called Viburnum x burkwoodii – a beauty because of its large clusters of flowers, which are intensely fragrant. It has lovely lime green leaves, and is a hardy shrub. It’s grown in older gardens, but should be planted more often because it is so hardy.

Another less well-known viburnum that flowers in winter and early spring is Viburnum fragrans or Viburnum farreri – named after the Chinese explorer. It comes from the north of China and it’s more upright in its growth habit. It has a wonderful delicate cluster of sweetly-fragrant flowers that are followed by a little scarlet berry. It is a very fine plant.

For something really spectacular try Viburnum macrocephalum. “Macro” means large and “cephalum” means head – and the flowers get bigger as the season develops to reach almost basketball size. It’s also called the Chinese snowball tree. The colour changes from lime green to a beautiful creamy white and it’s one of the most spectacular shrubs for a garden.

The Korean viburnum, Viburnum carlesii, is deciduous and in early spring has a wonderful cluster of pink buds and an absolutely beautiful perfume. A little piece in a vase would fill the room with perfume – it’s a magnificent shrub.

Viburnum buddlejifolium is from central China but it’s rarely found in Australian gardens – although it’s growing robustly in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. The flower hasn’t much fragrance, but the plant is semi deciduous and the leaves are quite long, are a deep green, deeply-veined on the underside and felty to touch. It’s worth hunting out for your garden.

Viburnums are really tough plants. You might read that they need a lot of moisture, but in my experience and over the last few years of drought, they have done well with little water and mulch over the roots. If you like pruning, then when the flowers are finished at the end of spring, remove them and tidy up the bush. Viburnums also take some pruning, but most often they don’t need much attention. Viburnums are great plants that should be remembered because they’re useful and often fragrant.

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