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How to Grow: Ninebark
Learn how to grow ninebark shrubs including information on varieties.
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full sun, part sun, part shade
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Late spring and early summer with whitish- pink flowers and reddish fruits in the fall. Reddish peeling bark has a winter interest as well.
Mature Height x Spread
5 to 10 feet x 6 to 8 feet
attracts beneficials, native, drought tolerant
This attractive, native, deciduous shrub gets its common name from extreme peeling of the bark that is said to have nine layers. The plant itself is an easy to grow, hardy, large shrub with cascading branches and dark green leaves. Newer varieties have light green or even dark, burgundy colored leaves making this an interesting shrub even when not flowering. I like how the bright red flowers of my rose campion look contrasted with the dark ninebark foliage. The flowers emerge in late spring in clusters of white or pink. The bright red fruit add color in fall as well and are favorites for birds. With the reddish colored, peeling bark, this shrub looks attractive every season of the year.
When, Where and How to Plant
Ninebark is hardy throughout New England. Grow ninebark plants purchase from a local garden center and plant from spring to early fall in a full to part sun location on a well drained, fertile soil, amended with compost. It’s adapted to wet soils, but does best with good water drainage. Space plants 4 to 6 feet apart.
Keep new plantings well watered. Older plantings are more drought tolerant. Add a layer of bark mulch or wood chips in spring to preserve soil moisture and keep weeds away. Fertilize in spring with a layer of compost and an organic plant food.
Regional Advice and Care
Ninebark is an adaptable shrub that grows well under many conditions. It flowers and fruits best in full sun. Varieties with different colored leaves make this a good choice for part shade locations, too. It has few pest problems, but individual limbs may dieback over time and need to be removed at the base of the plant. The whole shrub may need rejuvenation pruning periodically to encourage new, younger branches with better leaves and flowers.
Companion Planting and Design
Grow ninebark as a foundation shrub where it won’t grow to block a window or walkway. Give it enough space to grow in its naturally arching branch pattern for the best look. In a mixed shrub border, grow ninebark with other deciduous shrubs, such as lilac and spirea. Use different colored ninebarks in the back of a perennial flower border to show off the brightly colored perennials such as coneflowers and bee balm.
‘Snowfall’ has dark green leaves on a 7-foot tall shrub with showy flowers and berries. ‘Diablo’ has dark purple colored leaves that contrast well with the flowers and berries. In shade the leaves are not as deeply colored. ‘Dart’s Gold’ and ‘Nugget’ feature yellow foliage on 5 to 6 foot tall shrubs. The foliage turns greener in shade. ‘Coppertina’ has orange-copper colored foliage. ‘Center Glow’ has burgundy colored leaves with a golden center.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.
Some common names of plants can be a bit of an exaggeration. Sneeze weed really doesn’t make people sneeze. Devil’s walking stick may have thorns on it, but it’s that intimidating and monkey puzzle tree doesn’t need monkey to figure out how to climb it. A common shrub in our area, nine bark also falls into this same category. This hardy shrub has attractive colorful leaves and flowers, and beautiful fruits. In winter the bark exfoliates in layers, hence the common name nine bark. I don’t think it looks like nine different types of bark, but it is attractive.
Physocarpus opulifolius is hardy in zones 3 to 8. It grows 4 to 6 feet tall and wide in full to part sun locations on well-drained soil. It’s closely related to spirea so blooms around the same time with similar looking whitish-pink flowers. But ninebark fhe flowers give way to drooping clusters of red fruit. By fall the green leafed varieties turn yellow.
The big selling point of ninebarks are the newer varieties. ‘Diablo’ has been around awhile now, but touts burgundy colored leaves that contrast beautifully with the white flowers. ‘Summer Wine’ is a newer burgundy-leafed variety that has a more compact shape. There are also yellow-leafed varieties such as ‘Dart’s Gold’ and orange leafed varieties such as ‘Amber Jubilee’ that has reddish-purple foliage in fall.
Nine barks are relatively pest free and easy to grow. Branches will sometimes dieback, but the shrub responds well to severe pruning, even to the ground. The best time to cut it back is after flowering. It’s suited to places in your landscape where spirea grows. They can be specimens as a foundation plant, used in hedgerow or even used for erosion control on banks. Some varieties sucker freely filling in vacant areas quickly.