A friend of mine told me about a bush called viburnum. She says it has lovely crimson foliage in the fall, which I would love. Does it grow relatively well here? Also, does it flower or have any berries, etc.?
I absolutely love viburnums! They're one of my favorite plants. In fact, my wife Patti and I have seven different varieties in our yard.
Viburnums are a large, diverse group of shrubs that range from dwarf, 2-foot tall mounds to 15-foot tall shrubs. Their flowers are mostly small and white in showy clusters that appear sometime in the spring, depending on the variety.
Most viburnums tend to have pretty good fall color — it's generally shades of yellow, purple and maroon — but it's usually not a vibrant, traffic-stopping hue.
If it's the fall color you're looking for, you would probably be better off with another shrub called burning bush. As the name implies, this plant just glows in the fall with bright crimson color.
Burning bush is pretty common around here and you'll see it planted in a lot of different situations. However, I think it's happiest when it gets a bit of shade in the afternoon.
Do a good job amending the soil when you plant (it appreciates rich soil) and water regularly. Nothing extreme, but regular "garden watering" is fine. Keep in mind that they are not drought-tolerant at all.
Standard burning bush is a pretty big shrub, growing 8-feet to 12-feet tall with age. What you usually see around town is a compact form of the plant that grows to 5-feet or 6-feet tall and just a bit wider. There's an even smaller variety called Little Moses that gets 3-feet or 4-feet tall.
The plant does flower, but it's inconspicuous. The flowers are followed by a small capsule-type fruit that splits open in the fall revealing colorful orange to red seeds inside.
But this plant is grown for its fall color — it's spectacular!
Even without that show-stopping fall color, I think viburnum has a place in almost every traditional landscape. There are quite a number of them and they vary greatly in size and flower.
My smoke bush has black flaky tips on the ends of the leaves. The dead leaves do not drop off in the winter, and the plant does not bloom much. It is still growing, but looks unhealthy especially because of the black on the end of the leaves.
It definitely sounds like something is wrong with your plant. I don't know how old the plant is or how long it has been doing this, but I'd check on the basics, especially watering to make sure everything is OK.
I'm afraid I can't give you a specific watering schedule — there is a lot that goes into how often a plant needs water.
Certainly, temperature has a lot to do with it but also the humidity, the wind, what type of soil the plant is growing in, the exposure, the slope, mulch layers, etc.
The best thing to do is to determine your own watering schedule. You want to water your smoke tree deeply but infrequently. The first thing to do is to make sure the plant is soaked well when you water.
I like to see water penetrate 12–18 inches into the soil. Dig to check how deeply the water went the day after you watered.
Next, make sure the soil has a chance to dry out slightly before soaking it again. If the soil stays too soggy — it's easy to do in heavy clays — the roots suffocate and die off.
Dig 3 to 5 inches into the soil and feel it. There should be some moisture there (if there isn't, it's too dry and water more frequently), but some significant dryness as well. Let it get to the consistency of unbaked pie dough.