Snowball bush

(Question)

Hello, I live in Michigan, just north of Detroit. I had a snowball bush that was beautiful. 10 years old, in morning shade, afternoon sun; with good draining soil. This year started out just as years past, budding, leaves growing, then before the flowering stage the leaves started to turn brown. It continued until the leaves were literally black. When I bend a branch it is brittle, when I scraych low on the trunk it shows brown. I am affraid it is dead, but I do notknow why.

At any rate, we hav3 a big graduation party next summer and I would like to do something before winter so come spring it is already in place.

1. Is it too late to plant something in its place?

2. Can I hook a tow strap up to the dead plant and yank itout withmy truck?

 

(Answer)

Detroit has the same climate zone hardiness as Toronto, at 6b, so similar growing conditions and sometimes the same problems can be addressed here.

Snowball bush is a general description of several types of viburnum; Viburnum plicatum, V. macrocephalum, V. opulus ‘Roseum’, to name a few.  All are hardy in our zone, and any description I can find regarding what may affect these plants mostly includes aphids, although there are some diseases that affect the plant as well. Generally, recommendations made to keep the health of the shrub includes good air circulation, proper watering techniques and mulching. None-the-less, disease does happen.

Judging from your description, it seems that your snowball bush has died – brown, brittle branches when the bark is scraped is a good indication. What caused it can come in different paths: a very severe aphid infestation (you’d notice that), thrips, which are exceedingly tiny, but can cause die back, as they feed on the sap – under bark for adults, new growth for larvae, and several fungal diseases. Wilt is a possibility. Wilt is introduced by a soil-borne fungus, such as Verticillium albo-atrum and Verticillium dahliae. It can be a serious fungal disease. The pathogens enter the shrub through its root system and then spread throughout the rest of the plant. The fungus follows the vascular tissue, that which brings nutrients and water from the roots, clogs the system, which in turn, reduces water flow. The shrub’s leaves may suddenly start wilting, yellowing or curling, which in turn, with a bad infestation, can cause premature defoliation,  branch dieback, stunted plant growth and death of the entire plant.

For more information: https://homeguides.sfgate.com/leaf-wilt-snowball-bush-71493.html

To answer your second question first, can the shrub be removed by your truck? Snowballs do grow quite tall and dense – often to 15 feet (10m) and seem a bit daunting to remove. As suggested in the following link, and something I have done may times, removal of all of the branches with a pruning saw and/or ratcheting secateurs makes removal of the shrub’s root ball, much easier. No eye poking, or accidental removal of an adjacent branch to another shrub or tree. You may also want to consider that by bringing your truck into the garden, that the lawn or adjacent flower beds may be affected – wheel ruts and subsequent compacting of the soil prevents water penetration, and the lawn or beds would need to be amended. The following site gives a good recommendation for removing a shrub and amending the hole afterward:

https://homeguides.sfgate.com/remove-snowball-bush-root-system-36239.html

I understand that you want that resulting big hole left by the removal of the shrub to be filled for your garden party. The short answer is, yes, you can put another shrub or tree in that spot at this time. Here, the choices are more limited at this time of the year, and may be so for Detroit. On the other hand, many of the larger garden centres here are often selling off larger specimens of trees and shrubs, at discount prices. It may be so where you are. Be aware, they may not be guaranteed. If you find a shrub or tree that will fit with your landscape, the exposure (sun, shade) and the look you want, then planting now in the next month or so will be fine. They will be going dormant, however, and you may not know the final look until the spring. Whether you choose to plant now or in the spring, the link above offers a good idea on how to do it, in addition to removal of the shrub.

Finally, if you cannot find what you want, you might want to wait until spring. Although I don’t know what your yard looks like and how much space the shrub takes, it is possible to dress up the area with pots of annuals, in varying sizes, on various pedestal heights, perhaps surrounding a bench or seating area where lovely graduation photos can be taken.