Korean Spice Viburnum Care and Growing Tips

Updated: Jul. 10, 2024

Korean spice viburnum flowers pack a cinnamon-scented punch. Learn more about this low-maintenance deciduous shrub.

How to Grow Korean Spice Viburnum

Korean viburnum Viburnum carlesii , belongs to the family Viburnaceae, native to KoreaMaYcaL/Getty Images
These shrubs produce fragrant flowers in spring.
  • Common names: Korean spicebush viburnum, Korean spice or Korean spicebush
  • Scientific name: Viburnum carlesii
  • Hardiness zones: 5 to 7
  • Light needs: Full sun, partial shade
  • Watering needs: Moderate, evenly moist
  • Preferred soil: Slightly acidic, well-draining soil
  • Size: Grows up to 5 feet tall and 8 feet wide
  • Attracts: Birds, butterflies and bees

A relatively unfussy flowering shrub, Korean spice viburnum gets its common name partly from the country it originated from and partly from the strong clove-like aroma of its blossoms. The shrub provides seasonal color from spring through autumn and attracts fruit-eating birds like American robins and Baltimore orioles.

“I have several Korean spicebushes growing in my garden and they’re stunning throughout the seasons,” says author and master gardener Stacy Ling. “The birds absolutely adore nesting in the shrubbery and feasting on the berries.”

Grow brandywine viburnum for tie-dye berry clusters.

Foliage and Flowers

Korean spicebush shines in spring with round, tight clusters of fragrant blooms. Buds appear pink but blossom into white. If the plant is well-established, it will sprout dark red berries in summer that eventually turn near-black — if the birds don’t eat them first! In fall, this deciduous shrub is still a star player when its oval-shaped, dark green leaves warm up to a lovely wine-red or burgundy.

Where to Plant Korean Spice Viburnum

“Korean spice viburnum makes for an excellent foundation planting and adds variety and interest to mixed borders,” says Stacy. Make the most out of this shrub by planting it in a high-traffic area, such as near an entryway or driveway, so that you and any guests can fully enjoy its heady aroma.

It’s relatively shade tolerant and takes just fine to most types of soil, but it will look its best in a sunny spot with well-draining, slightly acidic soil.

How and When to Plant Korean Spice Viburnum

Plant your new shrub in spring so that it can begin to establish its root system and water generously, especially when you’re first incorporating it into your backyard. It can take a little watering neglect once established but does its best when the soil is kept moist. Although this plant isn’t native to North America, it isn’t considered invasive because it doesn’t cause harm to its surroundings.

Stacy adds, “Prune immediately after flowering, which ensures you do not remove next year’s flower buds, which grow on the old wood.” Another reason to cut it back after it’s done flowering is to shape or keep your Korean spice viburnum to a particular size.

Wildlife Benefits

korean spice viburnum indigo buntingCourtesy Sue Gronholz
Indigo bunting perched on a Korean spicebush

Birds that eat fruit love feasting on the berries a healthy Korean spicebush produces in the summer. (Just don’t snack on any of the berries yourself — they can cause stomach upset.) Pollinators, like butterflies and bees, love the strong aromas of the flowers, too.

Another upside to this plant is that it’s seldom severely damged by deer. “Even with the high deer population in my New Jersey garden, the viburnums remain untouched, which is a definite bonus,” says Stacy.

Cultivars to Grow

Spice Girl Viburnum 5347www.provenwinners.com
‘Spice Girl’ viburnum

Korean spicebush comes in a range of different cultivars.

One stand-out variety is ‘Compactum.’ Stacy says, “‘Compactum’ is a smaller, slower-growing variety and maxes out at 4 feet in height, so it’s great for smaller gardens.”

She also recommends ‘Spice Girl’ for its extra-strong cinnamon-like scent.

A J.N. Plant Selections introduction, ‘Spice Island’ was selected by Mike Yanny for its compact habit and late flowering. Spice Island produces large, fragrant flowers against fully developed dark green foliage. The foliage changes to a deep wine red color in fall.

Pitfalls, Pests and Problems

Although no plant is immune to all diseases, Korean spicebush tends to be relatively problem-free. The pests gardeners are most likely to run into aphids and viburnum leaf beetle, an invasive species that exclusively feeds on viburnum plants. Fortunately, Korean spicebush appeals less to the viburnum leaf beetle than other viburnum species.

“If pest infections occur, treatments with insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils can help manage the problem,” Stacy says.

More likely than pests, gardeners may find their Korean spice viburnum struggling to thrive due to conditions. If your shrub is starting to shrivel, it’s time to water. (It is not truly drought-tolerant.) And if you’ve noticed that your shrub is struggling to produce flowers, it’s likely in a spot that receives too little sun.

About the Expert

Stacy Ling is a master gardener and the author of The Bricks ‘n Blooms Guide to a Beautiful and Easy-Care Flower Garden. She’s been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, Horticulture Magazine, Garden Design, Fine Gardening and more. For more gardening tips, find her online at stacyling.com.