great shrub: a showoff viburnum, ‘michael dodge’

viburnum dilatatum michael dodgeYOU CAN SEE IT FROM THE PROVERBIAL MILE AWAY: Viburnum dilatatum ‘Michael Dodge’ weighed down in its embarrassment of gold fall fruit. Even though it’s a little coarse up-close and my friends the birds don’t seem to care for the flavor of all those brilliant morsels, I think I’m in love.

On a part of my hillside that’s visible from key spots indoors, a grouping of ‘Michael Dodge’ grows in front of three gold-fruited ‘Bob White’ crabapples, with a mass of yellow-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Silver and Gold’) in the picture, too. This simple and virtually carefree planting provides endless fall and winter pleasure, and ‘Michael Dodge’ even adds reddish fall foliage to the mix for a time.

I grow a lot of varieties of Viburnum—a habit that started more than 20 years ago, when I set out to make a garden for me and my avian companions. Many Viburnum have reddish or blue to blue-black fruit (or red fading to blue); but some species, including V. dilatatum or the linden Viburnum, where brilliant ‘Michael Dodge’ fits in, feature such notable oddballs.

If it’s pure red you want, V. dilatatum also includes some of the most prolific and longest-lasting fruiters of all in the genus—like ‘Oneida’ (dark red on a compact shrub, and very long-lasting) and screaming ‘Cardinal Candy’ (an extra-hardy selection that is listed as the best pollinator for ‘Michael Dodge’ and worthy anyhow of inclusion in a shrub border or hedgerow).

Digressing another second: Another species I’ve grown that breaks from the reddish or blue fruit scheme is the native Viburnum nudum (the smooth witherod Viburnum), with waxy or even shiny leaves leave to boot, but here’s the hitch: the gorgeous cultivar ‘Winterthur’ gets devoured in my garden by the dreaded Viburnum leaf beetle, which doesn’t seem to have an appetite for the dilatatum types (Asian natives), and leaves ‘Michael Dodge’ alone.

michael dodge in flowerSo there’s another “plus” for this featured shrub—even if it’s a bit informal, and not as showy in flower (above) or distinctive in habit as, say, a doublefile (Viburnum plicatum and V.p. var. tomentosum). My plants haven’t grown up yet, but I’m guessing ‘Michael Dodge’ will top 8 feet tall and wide, probably bigger.  It adapts to sun or part shade. Again, for heaviest fruit set, ‘Cardinal Candy’ is a good pollinator choice.

No wonder such an exceptional variety got the name it did, by the way. It was the expert plantsman Michael Dodge whose 26 years at White Flower Farm helped bring so many plants to gardeners’ attention.

Any Viburnum you particularly love right now? How’s your fall garden shaping up?

other juicy viburnum from the archives:

  • Trouble in paradise: Viburnum leaf beetle will ravage certain species and varieties in a flash, others not so. Learn how to combat this pest with non-toxic October-through-April search-and-destroy missions.
  1. Carolyn says:

    “visible from key spots indoors” – THANK YOU – that little tidbit really struck a cord with me. I have been thinking a lot lately about what to plant outside to add fall and winter interest to my Zone 2, habitat here. I will definitely consider the fact that I would enjoy these beauties even more if they were well within view from my warm and cozy kitchen! There is a lot to be said for really thinking through what and where you are planting things.

  2. Cynthia Kling says:

    love your photo of this new guy, Michael dodge. Could you tell me basic requirements and where to find in New York area. Love the idea that this is not a choice treat for birds. Deer.

    Cynthia Kling

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Cynthia. Any nursery that specializes in woody things or has a good selection of them can get you this plant, because now a number of the big “liner” growers (meaning wholesalers of very young shrubs that retail nurseries can grow on to selling size, or that “re-wholesalers” (nurseries that are like middlemen between those two) can grow on and sell to retailers. Not sure exactly where you are located, but I’d start with a call or visit to the nursery near you that has the nicest selection of shrubs and trees.

      As mentioned, sun or part shade; nothing special otherwise that I can tell.


  3. Alan says:

    Hi Margaret,

    Thanks for featuring ‘Michael Dodge’. Now I have a better idea of what mine will look like when they grow up. I purchase two Michael Dodge Viburnums a couple years ago. They were mail ordered because I couldn’t find them locally. They were just a few inches when I got them but they have done well. They’re now pushing 3 feet or so – still a long way to go but I have hope! I have them planted among some American Beauty berry shrubs. I think the combo will look really good, one day…

  4. Adnan says:

    I’d love to grow these especially Viburnum pulus but read these plants grow to zone 9.I live in zone 10 and trying a few from seed.Lets see how they do.I m glad plants dnt read books.:D

  5. Marsha Yates says:

    Hi Margaret,
    Do you know where I can buy the Michael Dodge viburnum online? I live in Bucks County, PA and haven’t had any luck locally.
    Thanks, Marsha Yates

    1. margaret says:

      I have had it a long, long time, Marsha; a local place used to sell it. Now I see that even the wholesale “liner” producer isn’t propagating it so I don’t know. Sorry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.