How to Grow and Care for Chinese Snowball Viburnum

Common Name Chinese snowball, Chinese snowball viburnum
Botanical Name Viburnum macrocephalum ‘Sterile’
Family Adoxaceae
Plant Type Shrub
Mature Size 6–10 feet tall and wide
Sun Exposure Full, Partial
Soil Type Moist, Well-Drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 6-9 (USDA)
Native Area Asia

Chinese Snowball Viburnum Care

These are the main care requirements for Chinese snowball viburnum:

  • Plant in a well-prepared hole of the same depth of the nursery container
  • Space shrubs at least 10 feet apart
  • Aim for the plant to receive 6 to 8 hours of direct sun each day
  • Plant in an area sheltered from winter winds in colder climates
  • Keep it well watered for the first year
  • Amend clay soils with organic material (peat moss, compost)
  • Use slightly acidic, well-drained soil
  • Fertilize once when planting and annually after it blooms





Chinese snowball viburnum can tolerate full sun to partial shade conditions, but for optimal flower production, it requires at least six hours of full sun each day. Too much shade will cause the blooms to become sparse and the shrub to become leggy.


This beautiful shrub needs well-drained, slightly acidic soil for best performance. However, it tolerates a wide range of soil conditions and even tolerates slightly alkaline soil. Avoid soils that hold onto too much water, as Chinese snowball viburnum does not like to be waterlogged.


Keep the soil evenly moist throughout the year. Depending on the temperature in your area, the watering schedule will vary, but determining and sticking to a watering schedule will help the Chinese snowball viburnum produce the most stunning show of blooms. Be wary of overwatering, though, especially if the plant is growing in dense soil. A mature shrub can tolerate some drought.

Temperature and Humidity

While there are other viburnum species that are suitable as far north as USDA hardiness zone 2 or as far south as zone 10, Chinese snowball grows best in more moderate climates from zones 6 through 9. It can survive winter temperatures down to about minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit, but it struggles in extremely hot climates, where it might need to be shaded from the intense rays of the sun and require more water than usual. 

It tolerates both arid and humid atmospheric conditions, provided soil moisture is adequate, but it may be susceptible to mild fungal disease issues in very humid conditions.


Fertilize Chinese snowball viburnums at planting, and then annually, immediately after the shrub has finished flowering. For best results, use an all-purpose balanced fertilizer that is formulated for woody shrubs. For the amount to use, follow product label instructions.

Types of Chinese Snowball Viburnum

You might see this plant sold as Viburnum macrocephalum ‘Sterile’, but there are no other named cultivars of Chinese snowball viburnum. The wild form is sometimes known as V. macrocephalum f. keteleeri, and it is less showy than the cultivated variety usually sold commercially.

Here are some hybrid viburnums that have V. macrocephalum as one of its parents:

  • Viburnum macrocephalum x V. carlessii is known as fragrant snowball. It has heart-shaped leaves but smaller flowers than V. macrocephalum. Blossoms are fragrant and the plant is hardy as far north as USDA zone 4.
  • Viburnum ‘Nantucket’ is a smaller hybrid crossed between V. x ‘Eskimo’  and V. macrocephalum f. keteleeri. It is another snowball viburnum, but it does not have the excellent disease resistance of Chinese snowball. It is hardy in zones 6 to 9.


After flowering, the Chinese snowball viburnum can benefit from some light pruning to shape the shrub and remove dead or diseased branches. Ideally, this shrub has a classic vase-shaped growth habit with a rounded top, and pruning efforts should be aimed at maintaining that shape. It is also possible to train the plant as a small tree by systematically favoring a large central leader while trimming away lower offshoot branches.

Every three or four years, this shrub can benefit from a more severe pruning that cuts the stems down to 2 to 3 feet, which will control the size and prompt plentiful new growth. Expect that growth will be slightly stalled during the first growing season following a heavy pruning, but very vigorous in the following years.

If you are planning a hard rejuvenation pruning, winter is a good time to perform this task.

Propagating Chinese Snowball Viburnum

Chinese snowball viburnum produces sterile flowers, so the best way to propagate it is by softwood cuttings. For best results, take cuttings in the spring from shoots with vigorous new growth. Here’s how:

  1. Using clean, sharp pruning shears or scissors, take angled cuttings from branch tips that are 4 to 6 inches long.
  2. Remove any leaves from the bottom of the cutting to expose the nodes, and dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone.
  3. Plant the cuttings in small pots filled with a well-draining potting mix. A simple formula of half perlite and half peat moss is sufficient, but any commercial potting mix will also work.
  4. Place the potted cuttings in a plastic bag to keep the humidity high, and then leave them in a brightly lit area out of direct sunlight. Roots should start to grow within two to four weeks, but the timeframe can vary.
  5. When the cuttings are rooted, remove the plastic bag and continue growing the cutting in a sheltered, bright location.
  6. Once new leaves begin to appear, the cutting can be transplanted into the landscape. Cuttings begun in spring are generally left to grow in the pot through the summer before planting in the fall.


Chinese snowball viburnum requires no special winter protection, provided it is growing within its established hardiness range. Zone 6 gardeners might want to provide some form of windbreak against harsh winter winds.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Chinese snowball viburnum is especially good at resisting the common bacterial leaf spots and fungal diseases such as powdery mildew that plague other viburnum species, and it has virtually no serious insect or disease problems. However, very humid climates can make this species more susceptible to mild fungal diseases.

How to Get Chinese Snowball Viburnum to Bloom

Unlike most other species of viburnum, Chinese snowball viburnum blooms are both sterile (meaning they do not produce fruit) and fragrance-free. These large blooms make popular cut flowers and make a particular stunning arrangement when several flowers are cut and arranged in a tall vase.

A hard rejuvenation pruning will often stimulate intense flowering, though there will be a delay in seeing these results. The first spring after such pruning will see much-reduced flowering, but the following spring will produce a magnificent display.

Bloom Months

Chinese snowball viburnum typically blooms between April and May. While this plant usually blooms during the spring growing season, it can also produce new flowers again in the fall.

How Long Does Chinese Snowball Viburnum Bloom?

The flowers on Chinese snowball viburnum typically last for a few weeks at a time.

What Do Chinese Snowball Viburnum’s Flowers Look and Smell Like?

Chinese snowball viburnum produces large, eye-catching white flowers that grow in rounded clusters, which give this plant its unique name. Each fragrance-free flower cluster can grow up to 8 inches wide.

How to Encourage More Blooms

While it’s typical to fertilize these shrubs after they flower, you may want to add an early spring feeding with balanced fertilizer if your shrub is not flowering fully. If surrounding trees have grown up to shade your shrub, the shade might be hindering flower production. Good pruning of surrounding trees might improve the sun exposure and return your shrub to profuse blooming.

Caring for Chinese Snowball Viburnum After It Blooms

Ideally, Chinese snowball viburnum shrubs should be pruned immediately after they flower. Early spring pruning can remove the flower buds for the current season, but the shrub will return to a normal pattern the following year. Failure to bloom is sometimes traced to poorly timed pruning.

Deadheading Chinese Snowball Viburnum Flowers

Deadheading Chinese snowball viburnum flowers is preferable for many gardeners to keep the plant looking lush and healthy. Cutting off dead blooms does not hurt this plant, and it can also encourage new blooms to form.

Common Problems With Chinese Snowball Viburnum

These are very hardy, easy-to-grow shrubs, but you can encounter a few issues. Typically, Chinese snowball viburnum is affected by growing problems that involve lack of sunlight, under-watering or improper watering, and pruning.

Shrub Is Overgrown and Sparse

In the right conditions, these can be surprisingly large shrubs. If a Chinese snowball viburnum is overwhelming its space, perform a hard rejuvenation pruning in late winter. You’ll be rewarded with a denser, more compact shrub that flowers intensely within a year. Such hard pruning should be performed every few years.

Leggy sparseness is sometimes the result of a plant growing in too much shade. Pruning surrounding trees to provide your Chinese snowball viburnum with more sunlight may help it become fuller.

Leaves Are Shriveling, Branches Are Dying Back

While many shrubs are fairly tolerant of drought once they are established, Chinese snowball viburnum needs consistent, regular watering—at least 1 inch per week through combined rainfall or irrigation. Even a few weeks of no water can cause dieback to begin.

Leaves Are Covered With Whitish Powder

This is powdery mildew, a very common soil-borne fungal disease that affects many shrubs. In some climates (warm, humid conditions) powdery mildew is unavoidable and gardeners learn to tolerate it because it is almost never fatal. Ground-level soaking rather than overhead watering will help prevent the disease from spreading because this keeps the spores from splashing up onto the leaves. If the appearance of powdery mildew is unacceptable to you, spraying with fungicides can be used early in the season to prevent the disease from taking hold.


  • Because of its size, the Chinese snowball viburnum is great as a border plant or a living privacy fence, and it can even be trained as a small tree. After the flowering period, this dense, round shrub is fairly understated, blending easily into the rest of the landscape and allowing the summer flowers to steal the show.

  • If you want the huge white flowers of Chinese snowball viburnum but live in a climate that is too cold, then try fragrant snowball (Viburnum x carlcephalum), a hybrid cross between Viburnum macrocephalum and V. carlessii. Its blossoms are not quite as large as those of Chinese snowball, but fragrant snowball is reliably hardy in zones 4 to 8.

  • In a good growing location and with routine care, including rejuvenation pruning every few years, this shrub will live for many decades; 50-year-old shrubs are common.

  • Chinese snowball viburnum is often compared with hydrangeas, as both of these plants produce large clusters of flowers that grow in a rounded shape.

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