Compact CranberrybushViburnum opulus ‘Compactum’
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Viburnum opulus ‘Compactum’
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Compact Cranberrybush is a small to medium-sized deciduous shrub growing no more than 6 feet tall. It has lobed leaves a little like a maple, that turn from mid-green to glowing purple-red in fall. Early summer brings 3-inch clusters of white flowers like small lace-cap hydrangeas, which transform into clusters of glossy, scarlet-red translucent berries that make a great display in late summer through fall. The berries are edible, and eaten by songbirds, but they also can be used in relishes and jams like the American cranberrybush.
Full sun gives the best crops of flowers and berries on the Compact Cranberrybush, but it’s happy growing with a few hours of shade. It grows in just about any well-drained soil, and also in wetter ground. Avoid very dry and hot soils. It is generally free of serious pests or diseases in most parts of the country, and needs little attention to grow well. If you need to prune, do it in winter or early spring, but trimming isn’t normally needed beyond removing any dead branches.
For handsome fall berries, few in any shrubs can match the beauty of the Compact Cranberry. No, these are not the cranberries or cranberry sauce fame, or even the highbush cranberry, but they are stunningly beautiful, with the glowing lipstick-red of their glossy berries weighing down every branch. The flowers too are very attractive, like small, white, lace-cap hydrangeas, and the fall colors of purplish-reds add depth and beauty as the season comes to an end. One of the many viburnum shrubs so valuable in the garden, the great virtue of these plants is their casual elegance combined with low maintenance, a combination that makes them great for filling larger shrub beds, or decorating semi-wild parts of your garden. As for those berries – which are produced prolifically even if you have just one bush – they are not as good as the very similar berries from the American cranberry, but they can be used for making relishes. Note that the cranberry for Thanksgiving is a completely different plant (Vaccinium macrocarpon).
The Compact Cranberrybush is a deciduous shrub growing 4 to 6 feet tall and wide, with an open, branching form. The young bark is light tan-beige, smooth, but with long vertical ridges on it, maturing to gray-brown with a more rugged, cracked surface. The leaves are in pairs along the stems, and are unusual among viburnums for being lobed, suggestive of a maple leaf. Typically there are 3 lobes, with a large central one and one on each side, but some leaves can have a couple more. The edge of the leaf has irregular teeth along it, and the surface is smooth but slightly bumpy, and the underside is often a little hairy. The leaves are mid-green all summer, turning to shades of purples and reds in fall, putting on a good show.
Flowers usually appear in June, and are much more decorative than in most common viburnums. They are in clusters 2 to 3 inches across, at the ends of the stems, and there are two types of flowers in the cluster. Around the outside is a circle of larger flowers, pure white with five flat petals. In the center is a cluster of many smaller white flowers, whose yellow stamens give them a creamy look. Only the central flowers form berries, as the outer ones are sterile. Unlike many other viburnums that need a second different but related variety to set fruit, this shrub fruits well all on its own. The berries are ripe by late winter and last into fall. They are about one-third of an inch across, and when ripe they are very glossy and translucent, glowing with a fiery scarlet-red. Many experts consider this to be among the very best berry displays of all the viburnums, and a bush in ‘full berry’ is a striking sight. After a few weeks songbirds will start to take the berries for winter food.
With its modest size, the Compact Cranberrybush is an ideal shrub for anywhere in the garden. Plant it among the evergreens around your home, to brighten up that area. Use it at the back of small beds, and in the middle of larger ones, to give height and interest in several seasons. Plant it in semi-wild parts of your garden too – it’s pretty self-reliant. It was widely grown in gardens in the past, so it’s an important plant for restoring classic gardens around older homes.
A valuable shrub for colder parts of the country, the Compact Cranberrybush is hardy all through zone 3. It also grows well right into zone 8, so almost everyone can grow it with ease.
Full sun or partial shade both suit the Compact Cranberrybush, but plants in sun will flower more and so produce a bigger berry crop. It grows easily in most soils, with some drought tolerance when well-established, but generally preferring damper conditions. Although well-drained soil is usually suggested, it will also grow happily in wetter conditions, which it does in the wild.
The Compact Cranberrybush is usually free of pests or diseases, although in some parts of the northeast there can be problems with the viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni) damaging foliage. If you encounter this pest, switching to some of our native viburnums is the easiest solution. Otherwise this bush is untroubled by pests or diseases, and easy to grow. In colder areas a spring pruning of any dead twigs is advised, but no other significant care is needed. Older bushes can have a few of the oldest and weakest stems removed in early spring, or just after leaf-break.
Called Guelder rose or European cranberrybush, Viburnum opulus is a shrub that grows all around the northern hemisphere. In North America it is replaced by the almost identical Viburnum trilobum, which some European botanists place in V. opulus, as var. americanum. We don’t know when the variety called ‘Compactum’ was first introduced, or where it came from, but it could have been around for a long time. It is different from wild plants in being smaller, with good fall colors. Some experts say it is a form of var. americanum, which would make it also a variety of Viburnum trilobum. Botany can be an uncertain science!
Given the prestigious Award of Garden Merit in 1962 by the Royal Horticultural Society of Britain, there is no question that this is a reliable and valuable shrub – reason enough to grow it. There is always room for more berries in the fall garden, and those on the Compact Cranberrybush are among the best. Order now – our stock of this popular ‘garden basic’ won’t last long.