Guelder-Rose is one of the many names of this shrub filling every garden and balcony with a wonderful flowerage. In fall, it brings fresh color to an increasingly dull environment with its berries. The perennial plant is hardy and will thrive for many years if you create a few conditions for it which are explained in detail in this care instruction for the Viburnum opulus.

Plant Profile

  • family: Adoxaceae
  • genus: Viburnum
  • species: Viburnum opulus
  • popular Names: Guelder-Rose, water elder, cramp bark, snowball tree and European cranberry bush
  • origin: Eurasia and Northern Africa
  • persevering perennial plant
  • growth height: between 1.5 meters up to 6 meters
  • flowering period: from May to June
  • flower color: crème- to pinkish-white
  • red berries in fall
  • reddish orange leaves in fall

Only on rare occasions, you will meet such a robust, blossoming shrub like it is the case with this viburnum species “Snowball Tree”. It is suited best for garden friends and plant lovers which only just have discovered their passion or would like plants without having to put in lots of working hours.

The winter hard plant will make it easy for you in every situation. Read in our care instruction what you must keep in mind when planting, caring, multiplying and overwintering.


The water elder or snowball tree presents itself as an example of low maintenance and even laymen will be able to cater it its needs. You can find orientation with the following care instructions and you will have years of joy derived from this garden plant.


The snowball tree feels most comfortable in a sunny to semi-shaded location. But it does neither do well with direct sun light nor with blazing midday sun. Optimal would be a place where the morning and evening sun will shine on it.

It shows to normally be quite robust when it comes to wind. But especially the young plants have issues with cold draft air during the winter months. Therefore, it should be places a little sheltered from the wind.

Additionally, choose a place without constant moisture which would for example be the case at shores, ponds or creeks. Also, being located next to plants with a high demand for water is not ideal. It could lead to overmoisturing and the snowball tree might react to it with root decay.

Soil Conditions

For optimal living conditions, the soil conditions are very important. For this reason, the soil needs to fulfill certain prerequisites so that the snowball tree feels comfortable and can thrive well.

  • light and permeable
  • clayey
  • alternatively containing sand
  • high in nutrients
  • freshly moist to well wet but without water-logging
  • rather calcareous
  • pH-level: neutral to alkaline


When you plant a water elder shrub in a tub, you should use a high-quality substrate. Common flower soil clumps a lot, the permeability does not exist anymore and mold can develop on the ground surface. Same applies to turf.

When it comes to the substrate, you should make sure that the pH-level is up to a neutral or alkaline value as well has parts of sand and/or clay. Optimal is also a substrate with additional perlite which improves the permeability of the substrate even further. You can also use a high-quality flower soil and enrich it yourself. Mix it with a part each of sand and clay. Instead of perlite you can mix in clay granules.


Planting Period

The optimal planting period is in fall and in spring. In fall you should early take care of the planting, so that the snowball tree species has enough time to get settled in before the first frost.

Planting in the Flower Patch

When you have found the optimal location for your snowball tree, there is nothing holding you back from planting.

This is how to proceed:

  • dig a planting hole which is at least double as wide and deep as the plant bale
  • on top of the planting soil, place a drainage from quartz sand or gravel
  • spread out a layer of soil on top
  • place the plant inside and fill up with soil
  • when appropriate, enrich the soil with sand or clay before
  • a bit of compost will deliver more nutrients
  • press on the plant bale well in the bottom soil for more stability
  • the soil on the sides will only be pressed on lightly for it to remain loose and permeable
  • water moderately
  • planting distance: at least a meter

The Viburnum opulus is mostly prone to a plant lice pest infestation during winter. The same kind enjoys to attack Jasmine and therefore both plants should not be placed in close proximity to each other.

Planting in the Tub

When planting in a tub, you should go about it in a similar way as under “Planting in the Flower Patch” described. You should only remember to use a high-quality substrate and especially to not forget a drainage at the tub bottom.

Plant the snowball tree so deep that between soil surface and tub rim are at least two centimeters of space. In this way, you will prevent that a possible sludge formation after watering will overflow. Use a tub size which is at least twice the size of the plant bale. Because the snowball tree can quickly gain circumference and weight, the tub is otherwise prone to fall over at any blast of wind.

Re-potting of the snowball tree should happen about every three years or at the latest when the tub becomes too small. This is the case when stability cannot be ensured or when the roots are growing through the drainage hole at the bottom or through the ground surface.


The watering schedule and the watering amount is decided mainly by the location. Basically, it applies that the sunnier and warmer the location is, the more water is needed by the cramp bark.

You should always check the ground and the tub substrate for the current moisture level. For this, press your thumb hard on the soil surface. The ideal time for watering is when the soil surface is slightly dried but still can be pressed in for about two centimeters. Avoid complete dryness of the soil. Note that tub plants can dry out quicker due to the little amount of soil and therefore need to be watered more often.

During hot summer days, you can water your snowball tree generously with the water hose if you have inserted a drainage at the bottom so that no water-logging occurs. This way you provide for saving capacity in the ground and you do not have water daily.

Guelder-Roses planted in a tub should not be placed on a saucer if you cannot ensure that the excess water can be drained because for example the planting tub is too heavy to lift. During summer, watering should always happen early in the morning or ideally at night when no sun shines on the shrub.


Only when the snowball tree is placed in nutrient-low ground, it is advisable to add an organic complete fertilizer every six to eight weeks. The first administration of fertilizer should happen beginning of May so the Viburnum opulus will receive an optimal treatment for start of the flowering period.

If the snowball tree is placed in a rather moist ground, it is advisable to fertilize with compost every few weeks because it will provide a slightly sour ground environment. If you want to optimize the growth of blossoms and flowering durations, add a phosphorous fertilizer every two weeks starting in April. Make sure not to use a fertilizer with nitrogen because it affects blossoming negatively. Freshly planted and re-potted plants will not be fertilizer in the first four to six weeks.


Because the snowball tree only blooms when the shrubs are at least two years old, you should be careful with a radical pruning treatment. This should only be done if the Viburnum falls apart extremely at the sides. With radical pruning, you can bring the shrub to thick growth again. In this case, blossoming can only be expected after one year without flowerage. You should restrict it to a thinning after the flowering period. For this, shorten the new shoots as well as old wooden handles about max. one third.

Regardless of radical pruning or thinning, a cut should basically occur in spring until May or in fall between September and October. With cutting during fall, it is advisable to close the wounds at the wooden parts with Sulphur powder or wax. This way, the cut can dry quicker and will not have frostbite damage due to an early frost.


The European cranberry bush is hardy and can easily remain outside during the winter months, even during minus temperatures. Only young plants in their first year of life should be protected from frost. Wrap at a protective cover of raffia, brushwood or jute around it. If young plants are supposed to remain in a tub outside during winter, place them on Styrofoam or something similar with isolating characteristics for the ground cold not to reach the roots.


To décor your garden, patio or balcony with a beautiful flowerage, it will pay off to multiply the not quite cheap Viburnum opulus yourself. With the correct instructions, even non-garden-professionals will succeed.


When the snowball tree sprouts strongly during summer, it is the perfect time for multiplication by cuttings.

This is how to proceed:

  • separate a new cutting or at least 10 centimeters from the mother plant
  • break off the lower leaves up to half of the cutting
  • place it in a transparent glass filled with water
  • place it at a bright spot sheltered from wind and without direct sun light
  • ideal temperature: 21 degrees Celsius to 25 degrees Celsius
  • at the latest, exchange the water every two days
  • if roots developed, you can plant the cutting into the soil
  • enrich the soil with special cultivation soil
  • keep the soil moist but avoid water-logging
  • when frost occurs, the young plants need to be placed in a warm spot or protected with a jute bag or a raffia mat
  • from the following spring, you can treat the young plants just like adult Viburnum


The snowball tree is not relatively prone to diseases. Only too little or too much moisture can lead to the leaves turning brown. In this case, adjust the water amount to the demand as described above in the section “Watering”.

Pest Infestations

Of discoloration or crippling of the leaves shows and the blossoms do not mature, the snowball tree most likely has plant lice.

A quick relief is a traditional home-remedy that consists of high-concentrated soap solution and a few drops of spirit. Hose off the plant well with the garden hose. This way, you will already get rid of most of the plant lice. Afterwards, spray the shrub equally with the soap solution. Now, even the last plant lice will disappear and you will for now not have to fear another infestation.


There are about up to 200 species including sub-species of the snowball tree, of which it is the most common and known.

Very popular as well is the “roseum”. Its leaves color wine-red to dark-red during fall. The up to eight centimeter big flowers especially stand out from May to June. It is ideal as a bird protecting hedge because it does not grow fruit during fall which might attract birds.

The Viburnum lantana is a summer-green shrub with umbrella-shaped flowers. From August, the blossoms will be exchanged for berries. It is one of the lowest maintenance species and perfect for garden beginners.

Also, there is a wide variety of ornamental plants in the Viburnum genus, among them are:

  • ltrilobum
  • farreri
  • plicatum
  • carlesii
  • tinus
  • burkwoodii
  • rhytidophyllum
  • bodnantense or “Dawn”
  • snow ball tree “Eskimo”

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Guelder Rose Viburnums – How To Care For Guelder Rose Plants

Guelder rose is a flowering deciduous tree that goes by many names, including highbush cranberry, rose elder, snowball tree and crampbark. The name guelder rose originates in the Gelderland province of the Netherlands, where a popular cultivar was supposedly developed. The tree is very attractive and easy to grow. Keep reading to learn more guelder rose information, like tips on guelder rose growing and how to care for a guelder rose viburnum.

Guelder Rose Viburnums

What is a guelder rose? Guelder rose viburnums (Viburnum opulus) are deciduous shrubs or trees that grow to between 13 and 25 feet in height and 8 to 12 feet in spread, making them well suited for smaller areas of the landscape.

In late spring to early summer, they produce branching clusters of flowers that are usually white but sometimes shades of pink. The flowers give way in autumn to round berries that are red, blue or black. These berries are mildly toxic and can cause nausea of they are eaten. The leaves are frequently mistaken for maple leaves. They are bright green in the summer and turn to orange and red in the fall.

How to Care For Guelder Rose Plants

Guelder rose growing is very easy and forgiving. The shrubs will grow in most varieties of soil, including chalk, clay, sand and loam. That said, they prefer well drained but moist soil. In the wild, the plants tend to grow in damp areas. They will also tolerate both acidic and alkaline soils.

These viburnum shrubs will grow in anything from shade to full sun.

Although the berries are mildly toxic raw, they can be cooked into an edible and tasty jam. When eaten, the bark of guelder rose viburnums is thought to have positive medicinal effects as an antispasmodic, earning the plant one of its common names – crampbark.

Viburnum opulus – Guelder rose

The Guelder rose is another stunning member of the beautiful honeysuckle family. Often seen growing as an ornamental, like many of its close relatives, this shrub delightfully adorns our hedges and country lanes up and down the land. You can go foraging for both its medicinal bark in the spring, and the edible berries in autumn.

Sterile outer flowers of Guelder rose attract insects, whicjh pollinate the smaller fertile inner flowers

The first time you clap eyes on this plant may be during their lovely spring time show. The immaculate white flowers penetrate dense green canopies adjourning our lanes around May. Later in the year, the berries will brighten up increasingly dull grey days with splashes of scarlet in amongst yellowing autumn hedgerows.

Favourite habitats of Guelder rose.

Closely related to the elder tree, this shrub is almost entirely absent in Scotland, yet can be found most everywhere in England. It delights in copses of Alnus (alder) and Salix (willow), as well as in a range of hedges, woodland edges, bridleways, and country lanes up to elevations of 400 metres.

Guelder rose is said to be well suited to chalk land. Because cramp bark displays similar growth characteristics to the elder, it has also historically been known as ‘red elder’ and ‘rose elder’.

This deciduous, perennial shrub is native to Europe, North Africa and Northern Asia. It can easily grow up to 4 metres high on many stems. Cramp bark can flourish in full sun or partial shade and will tolerate most soils other than very wet ones. When planting this species, the advice has always been to avoid extremely hot or dry, exposed, and cold areas.

The other well known common name for this plant stems from the province of Holland known as Gueldersland. This is where the shrub was first recorded as being cultivated. The generic name Viburnum is the old Latin name for this shrub and others in the genus of about 150-175 mainly shrubby species. The specific name opulus refers to a type of maple, in allusion to the maple-like leaf shape of this species.

Distinctive features of Guelder rose

This plant’s most noticeable features are the distinctive umbel-like inflorescence and subsequent clusters of scarlet berry fruits. The almost flat-topped, dense corymb is typically around 11 cm wide and snow-white coloured, gracing our hedgerows from May-July ( with our recent warmer springs here in Britain they are increasingly out in the south during May).

Young flower buds of Guelder rose

The flowers of Guelder rose are conspicuous in the way that they produce large (15-20 mm wide) sterile outer flowers, surrounding much smaller (6 mm wide) fertile flowers which eventually give rise to the fruits. These will then ripen in drooping clusters and are ready from September-October.

Guelder rose berries can be foraged in Autumn to make preserves

The branches have grey twigs, somewhat angular in shape. These carry opposite pairs of buds and leaves, mainly terminating with double buds.

The buds are scaly, and appear thin when viewed from one side, but reasonably broad and becoming tapered when viewed from the other. The twigs carry a similarity in colour and form to the elder, especially the opposite pairs of buds.

Learn more about the patterns of plants, and how they can fast track your foraging, in my article here.

When foraging Guelder rose, you will see the leaves are somewhat akin to a maple. They are often broader than long, usually deeply-divided into 3-5 lobes, and with toothed margins. The leaves are sometimes voraciously eaten to a lacy outline by the viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni). It is not unusual to find some plants decimated by this insect in certain areas.

Here’s what Mrs Grieves’ online herbal, says about Guelder rose.

Parts used: Inner bark. Berries

Harvest: Bark from 3-5 year old branches in early spring before leaf break. Berries in autumn.

Key constituents: Salicin (which converts to salicylate in the body); isovalerianic acid; sesquiterpenes (viopudial, viburtinal); catechin tannins; coumarin (scopoletin); bitter principle (viburtine).

Actions: Anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, nervine, tonic, astringent, diuretic.

Pharmacology and uses: As its name suggests, this plant has long been used to alleviate painful cramps and spasms.

In North America a closely related species, black haw (V.prunifolium), is often used interchangeably, although they have slightly different chemical constituents. Certain indigenous North American Indian tribes such as the Meskwaki and the Penobscot reportedly used cramp bark for muscle swellings and mumps.

The famed ‘cramp bark’ of Guelder rose works by relieving and relaxing tense muscles, whether these are skeletal such as back muscles and limbs, or internal smooth muscles such as the intestines, airways, ovaries or uterus.

On another page on the website, you can discover more about the actions of medicinal plant constituents, as well as learning more about the plant meadowsweet, from where salicylic acid was extracted to make the popular drug, aspirin

Cramp bark can also be taken internally as a decoction or applied topically. It has long been used to treat breathing difficulties in asthma as well as menstrual pains associated with excessive uterine contractions. Some authors have noted it as being useful where miscarriage is threatened. Cramp bark is also helpful in cases of irritable bowel syndrome, colic, and the physical symptoms of nervous tension.

The molecule salicin, upon digestion, converts to salicylic acid. As a known anti-inflammatory, it will heal and support internal smooth muscles.

This plant also has value in treating cardio-vascular hypertension and is known to relieve constipation associated with tension. Read more on the cardio-vascular system here. The anti-spasmodic action is known to be conferred in part by the substance valerianic acid.

In some cases of arthritis, where joint weakness and pain have forced muscles to contract until almost rigid, cramp bark can be usefully employed and can bring often remarkable relief. This is because as the muscles relax, more blood can flow, metabolic waste products such as lactic acid can be removed and some degree of normal function can return.

Cramp bark can therefore be used in acute and chronic cases of muscle pains and cramps. It can also be usefully used before embarking on any physical activity likely to bring pain.

The berries are not used medicinally. Some authors class them as poisonous whilst others mention them as edible. Tasted straight of the tree they are very bitter due to the substance viburtine.

The berries have been known to cause gastroenteritis when consumed raw. But cooking with the addition of sugar can make a nice enough preserve, but personally I prefer other fruit jams to this one.

Using the bark of Guelder rose is safe and effective for long and short term use, although maybe not if the patient is on anti-coagulant medications. This is because the coumarins and salicylates are both known to thin the blood.

The plant has been reported to cause hypotension in large doses or even in average doses if taken by previously hypotensive individuals. Pregnant women ought to refrain from taking the bark of Guelder rose until they have consulted a qualified practitioner.

Would you like to make learning about foraging fun? Well with my foraging cards you can! Visit the shop to see them.


This Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) jelly recipe is quite simply divine. The plant is deciduous, and usually found in hedgerows, scrub and woodlands. It favours damp places and can be found along streams, but it also has the ability to thrive in quite dry spaces too.

Tasting the raw berries (which are mildly toxic if consumed in too great a quantity) will most likely result in much spitting, and verbal exclamations, as it is very bitter… but the bitterness goes when it is prepared into a jelly.

I joke that Guelder rose jelly makes the kitchen stink of old socks during preparation, but that rather off putting image is completely negated once you slather it all over some lovely hot buttered toast, or use it with game and other cooked meats.

So give this Guelder rose jelly recipe a try… I really don’t think you will be disappointed!

  • Guelder Rose or Crampbark – A Foraging Guide to Its Food, Medicine and Other Uses

Guelder Rose Jelly Recipe : Ingredients

  • 800g Guelder rose fruits (make sure you pick them soft)
  • 2 peeled oranges (chopped)
  • 12 crab apples (chopped)
  • 500ml of cold water
  • Sugar

Guelder Rose Jelly Recipe : Instructions

  1. Put the Guelder rose fruits, oranges, crab apples and water into a heavy bottomed pan and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes, using a potato masher to occasionally mash the mixture.
  2. Strain over night or for 12 hours by pouring the mixture through a muslin cloth or jelly bag. Do not squeeze the pulp as this will result in a cloudy jelly.
  3. Next measure out the liquid, and for every 500ml, add 500g of sugar. You can use white or brown sugar. For this recipe I used brown granulated sugar.
  4. Heat the sugar mixture stirring continuously until the sugar has melted, and allow it to come to a gentle simmer.
  5. Simmer for between 15-20 minutes, or until the liquid has reached setting point. Setting point is when you can put a little bit of the juice on a plate. Now push your finger through the juice. If the juice doesn’t automatically fall back into itself, and stays at the point you pushed it to, then it’s ready. IMPORTANT: Make sure you don’t over simmer the juice as you might end up with toffee!
  6. Wash your jars and lids with hot soapy water, then sterlise them by placing wet into a 120C oven until they are dry.
  7. Take out of the over, allow to cool for about 5 minutes, then pour the hot Guelder rose liquid into the jars, allow to cool down then screw on the lids.

Gardening with Malcolm Campbell: Guelder roses rise to beauty

The GUELDER rose is so named after the central Netherlands province of Gelderland, which is where the famous sterile or pompom form of Viburnum opulus originated.

It makes a large, untidy, 5m-tall shrub unless cut back quite hard every 3-4 years. Best cut back to knee-height after the flowering has finished and remove any dead wood.

I just put the chainsaw through them and now they are the talk of the street in each garden I had the courage to do that.

Indian hawthorn

THE so-called Indian hawthorn, Rhaphiolepis indica, really comes from China not India, so there.

Anyhow it can get a bit untidy too after 10 years or so and I have to confess I gave these the chainsaw last year, too, and they look wonderful this spring.

The R. indica is the white flowering species, As for the pink flowering species, which is R. umbellate, I’d just recommend a light prune, as they do retain their umbrella shape as they age.

Improve alkaline soil woes

I KNOW English gardeners who settle here really long for their rhododendrons, forsythia, kolkwitzia and kalmia, but our alkaline-clay soils are not their preferred habitat.

The secret is to address the locked up iron in the soil. The only form of iron chelates that works as a soil additive on alkaline soils is the EDDHA form.

Pheromones defeat moths

THIS month is the last chance to arrest the codling moth from invading your apples, crab apples, pears and walnuts for summer.

November and March are the local times for codling moth activity. Pheromone traps seem to be the safest control.

There are fresh traps on my website if all you can see at your local outlet are out-of-date kits.

media_camera The crab apple blooms.

Fight Ink-spot on roo-paws

THE smaller anigozanthos or kangaroo-paw cultivars seem quite prone to a black leaf discolouring fungi called ink-spot fungus.

The infestation is most noticeable if you water overhead or your plants are semi-shaded or there is a limited circulation of air around your plants.

A foliar spray of Eco-Oil at monthly intervals in spring and autumn will ease the situation.

Strawberry care

THE cruellest gardening blow is to have a lovely crop of strawberries and have them eaten by blackbirds or slugs.

The birds are easily netted off, but slugs are sneaky and in the warmth of late spring we often don’t give them a second thought but they are very active at nights and they love strawberries as much as you do.

Either bait into sections of 90mm PVC pipe so the pets and birds don’t get the baits or go play Vlad the impaler with a satay skew at night, torch in hand.

media_camera Strawberries in tub.

Bird of paradise on the move

THIS is a fine time to divide or move a large overgrown Strelitzia reginae or bird of paradise ‘thicket’ or the tree form S. augusta.

They have a huge hold on the ground, so I dig a trench and link a tow strap around the base to pull them out with the towbar on my ute.

Of course if you have access to a back hoe that is even better but hand digging them out is for the really fit. Move to a full sun aspect and water in with some fruit and flower water soluble fertiliser and they are back in flower within months.

media_camera Strelitzia reginae or otherwise known as bird of paradise.

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