Chinese Snowball Bush (Viburnum) roots but dies when potted

squirrellypete(z7b AL)November 4, 2013

Hey all. I consider myself to be a pretty decent propagator. For years I have successfully rooted all types of annuals, perennials, herbs, flowering shrubs, evergreens, etc....with a home-built intermittent mist system in coarse construction-grade sand.

One plant that keeps stumping me is the Chinese Snowball Bush. I can root them just fine in the propagation box, and once they form a nice healthy root mass I transplant them to pots just like I do every other shrub I propagate. Unfortunately every cutting slowly turns brown and dies, every single time. Potting mix is a combination of composted manure, sphagnum peat moss and perlite with some osmocote time release fertilizer thrown in for good measure. Everything else seems to thrive in this mixture.

I put viburnum potted cuttings in an area that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. I water when the soil starts to dry out.

Any thoughts?? I almost hate to take cuttings any more knowing full well they're just going to die, it doesn't seem very sporting lol.


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I have limited experience with propagation of hardwood plants, but have a 100% success rate. This Spring I rooted a Chinese viburnum and just recently planted it outdoors where it seems to be doing well. I cut each of the 4 leaves in half, coated the stem with rooting medium and put it in a mix of sand, potting mix and peat. Kept it on a heated pad. It took about 3 months to develop roots. After it rooted, I left it in this mix and transferred it to a larger pot with potting mix, placed it by a window where it got indirect sunlight for most of the day. It grew about an inch and developed one new leaf. Put it outside recently to acclimate to the cooling temperatures and then planted it in the ground.
I suspect that your problem develops when you move it from the sand mixture to the potting mixture. The roots do not like to be disturbed. Also, the manure and fertilizer may be too strong for the delicate roots at this point. I would wait to fertilize until it is firmly established. Just my thoughts. Hope this helps. It's definitely worth trying again. They are such a beautiful shrub and will give back years of enjoyment for your efforts.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 6:45PM
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squirrellypete(z7b AL)

thanks Lyndapaz, that's interesting. Most of the stuff I root seems to be pretty tough and the roots don't seem to mind being transferred from one medium to another but it sounds like the Viburnum might be different. I'll try your method with a different medium and avoid disturbing the roots when they form.

The manure I use is a composted store brand and I blend it well with peat moss and perlite until it's a good fluffy consistency, but maybe that's still too strong. Will start by changing the rooting/potting medium and go from there. Thx for your input!


    Bookmark   November 8, 2013 at 6:17PM
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Good luck, Danielle. Hope it works this time. Let me know how it turns out.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2013 at 9:32PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

That's a radical change from no nutrients at all in sand to a possible over-abundance from compost. This is also a lot of moving-around for propagating.

Are you free-scaping your yard? It might be easier to pick a nursery bed for cuttings in the ground, move survivors once to final destination. I do a lot of that, sometimes in a separate area, sometimes in/around other, smaller plants, but don't want to create more pots to tend while doing it, so use whatever piece of space is available and try to do most of it as a one-time thing. Put cuttings in the ground and see which live. The ones that fail, try again. It's much more difficult to keep any plant in a pot than in the ground, (barring climate discrepancies,) especially one creating roots from nothing.

Using annuals as needed, first year or two for filler, until some size is achieved can keep areas with micro-shrubs from looking empty/boring.

Have you tried layering to the ground or a pot of soil? Have you tried varying your timing a bit?

    Bookmark   November 10, 2013 at 3:06PM
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squirrellypete(z7b AL)

purpleinopp, thx for your response.

I have always used the intermittent mist propagation technique using coarse sand as my medium. Sand is cheap and the bed and timer takes care of babysitting the cuttings for me. I root large quantities of plants, many, many different kinds and then transfer to pots of soil once they establish a nice root mass. I do this for many reasons: for fun, to "free-scape" parts of my yard, to have plenty of plants to share at plant swaps and hopefully at some point to start selling some at farmers markets, plant yard sales, etc....

I originally started with a nursery bed to put rooted cuttings in but found it to be easier, at least for my needs, to put them directly into pots instead, especially if the end goal is to either give many of them away or sell them. Hardest part is keeping up with summer watering needs since they can dry out quickly. The potting mix I make was based on many suggestions, posts, blogs and websites from other propagators and growers and everything else seems to transfer well to it except for the viburnum.

I just read someone else who propagates viburnum uses a commercial potting soil mixed 1/2 with sand. I may try rooting them directly in that and then just up-potting as lyndapaz suggested instead of rooting in the propagation sand box.

I may also attempt air and/or ground layering with my large mother plant. As for timing, I prefer to work with soft wood to semi-hardwood cuttings in mid-late spring/early summer on most things and that's typically what I've been rooting from the viburnum. I am less familiar with hardwood cuttings and never tried them much, mostly because of the patience needed for them to root. Perhaps I should give those a shot as well on this one.


    Bookmark   November 10, 2013 at 7:18PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Danielle, best of luck! As you can probably tell from what I said, I have no patience whatsoever. That's why I love layering so much. Not all plants are pliable enough though, and layering can't yield as many individuals as cuttings.

I didn't offer any specific advice for this particular plant because I've not propagated it before. Sounds like you didn't really need the general info though. Hope someone with experience with this particular plant pops by with something more helpful.
- Tiffany

    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 8:54AM
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squirrellypete(z7b AL)

Thanks Tiffany! Looking forward to trying some different methods this year and with luck I'll finally have some success at making them happy.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 9:21PM
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