Summer Wine® ninebark. Photo: Proven Winners

For exceptional toughness, easy maintenance and four-season interest, few ornamentals can rival the appeal of ninebark. This deciduous shrub is a favorite of cold climate gardeners for its extreme hardiness and reliability. The common name of ninebark originates from the exfoliating bark that peels in layers when plants mature. The colorful foliage emerges in mid-spring, lasting well into fall. Clusters of pink or white flowers appear in late spring or summer, giving way to decorative red seedheads. Once the leaves have dropped, the bark and structure are revealed, lending beauty in the landscape that lasts all winter long.

Related to spirea, this North American native can be found in its natural habitat growing along stream banks and in moist wooded areas. Breeding innovations have resulted in varieties with foliage colors ranging from bright gold to nearly black, as well as smaller stature more suited to urban lots. The flowers are attractive to butterflies and other insect pollinators, while cut branches can be used as filler in floral arrangements.

On this page: The Basics | Planting | Care | Choosing the Right Ninebark | Pictures | Landscaping Tips

NINEBARK BASICS

Zones:

2-8

Height/Spread:

Upright arching or compact habit, 3-10 feet tall and 3-12 feet wide.

Exposure:

Full sun to partial shade; foliage color is richest in full sun.

Bloom time:

Late spring to summer

Color and characteristics:

Foliage comes in shades of deep purple, burgundy, orange, green, gold and multi-hues, with many varieties exhibiting new growth that changes color as the season progresses. Oval to rounded leaves are lobed, growing up to 4 inches long. Button-like clusters of five-petaled flowers appear in late spring or summer, blooming the entire length of the branches. Tiny red fruit or seed capsules ripen in summer and fall. The attractive exfoliating bark, which develops on mature specimens, peels in thin, paper-like layers to reveal the red and brown inner bark. The bark and structure is most noticeable in winter after the leaves have dropped. Fall color is generally insignificant.

Toxicity:

Ninebark may be toxic to humans and pets, though information is inconsistent. To be safe, contact a veterinarian, physician or poison control immediately if you think your pet or child might have ingested any part of the plant.

PLANTING INSTRUCTIONS

When to plant:

Plant in early spring when plants are dormant.

Where to plant:

In a sunny to lightly shaded site with fertile, well-draining soil that will stay evenly moist.

How to plant:

Loosen soil in the planting area and amend with compost. Remove plant from container and gently tease out roots if potbound. Dig a hole slightly deeper than the root ball and twice as wide. Place the plant in the hole so the top of the crown is level with the soil surface. Fill in the hole, tamp down soil around the base and water well. Mulch with organic matter such as wood chips to suppress weeds and retain moisture. Spacing depends on the variety.

NINEBARK CARE

Pruning, deadheading and maintenance:

Ninebark looks best when pruned minimally and allowed to retain its natural size and shape. Cut out dead, damaged and crossed limbs in early spring. Up to a third of older branches can be removed to improve air circulation. Since ninebark blooms on old wood, shape as needed just after flowering. Plants can be pruned back to the ground every few years to rejuvenate; however, this is not necessary.

Soil:

Ninebark prefers moderately moist, well-draining soil with a pH that is neutral to slightly acidic. It is tolerant of a wide variety of conditions, including rocky and clay soils.

Amendments & fertilizer:

Ninebark needs little to no maintenance once established. Apply an all-purpose slow-release fertilizer in spring as needed, and mulch around the base with a thin layer of compost or fine bark.

Watering:

Water regularly when plants are young, at least once or twice a week during summer. Ninebark prefers somewhat moist conditions, but is drought-tolerant once established.

Diseases and pests:

Healthy specimens show few, if any problems. Possible diseases include powdery mildew, fire blight, leaf spot or witches’ broom. Pests include aphids.

Deer resistance:

Ninebark is generally considered deer-resistant, though some gardeners will experience damage from grazing.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT NINEBARK

With different sizes and forms of ninebark to choose from, here are some tips to consider:

For borders and landscapes:

Choose varieties that will fit the scale of your property. Use as screening, hedging, in a mixed border, or as a focal point. Make sure to allow room for plants to mature without becoming crowded.

For containers:

Smaller types can be grown in containers as stand-alone accents.

For slopes and hillsides:

Use mass plantings for erosion control, selecting varieties that will fit the scale of your landscape.

VARIETIES

Swipe to view slides

Photo: Proven Winners

Summer Wine® Black Buy now from Proven Winners
Physocarpus opulifolius

Zones:

3-8

Height/Spread:

Upright compact habit, 5-6 feet tall and wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Bloom Time:

Late spring to early summer

Color:

Deep purple to nearly black foliage; flowers are white tinged with pink, red seedheads.

One of the darkest leafed varieties, the delicate flowers stand out dramatically against the foliage, with bright red seedheads providing weeks of additional color. Use as hedging, midway in a mixed border, or as a stand-alone specimen.

Photo: Proven Winners

Coppertina® (syn. ‘Mindia’) Buy now from Proven Winners
Physocarpus opulifolius

Zones:

3-7

Height/Spread:

Upright habit, 6-8 feet tall and wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Bloom Time:

Late spring to early summer

Color:

New foliage is coppery-orange, turning burgundy red in summer. Pinkish white flowers are followed by red seed capsules

Grown for its striking color, Coppertina® is a hybrid cross of ‘Dart’s Gold’ and ‘Diabolo’. This stately variety with bold foliage and arching branches makes a dramatic statement in the landscape. Use as screening, planted towards the back of a mixed border, massed in a larger landscape, or feature as a stand-alone focal point. Exceptionally tough and adaptable, Coppertina® is suitable for challenging areas.

Photo: Proven Winners

Tiny Wine® Buy now from Proven Winners
Physocarpus opulifolius

Zones:

3-8

Height/Spread:

Compact bushy habit, 3-4 feet tall and wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Bloom Time:

Late spring

Color:

New foliage is bright bronze, turning to deep maroon in summer. Pink buds open to pale pink flowers.

One of the smallest varieties, the diminutive stature makes this a good choice for an urban yard. Use as edging along a pathway, as a container accent, or foundation planting. Prune lightly as needed to retain its natural shape.

Photo: Proven Winners

Ginger Wine® Buy now from Proven Winners
Physocarpus opulifolius

Zones:

3-7

Height/Spread:

Upright habit, 5-6 feet tall and wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Bloom Time:

Late spring

Color:

New foliage starts out orange, fading to burgundy in summer. Pale pink buds open to white flowers, with red seedheads later in the season.

This mid-sized variety makes a valuable addition to any landscape, as hedging, in a mixed border, or a stand-alone accent. Combine with gold or chartreuse-foliaged plants such as ‘Goldmound’ spirea or ‘Rubidor’ weigela for dynamic contrast.

Photo: mizy / Shutterstock

‘Diabolo’ (syn. ‘Monlo’, ‘Diablo’)
Physocarpus opulifolius

Zones:

3-7

Height/Spread:

Upright habit, 8-10 feet tall and wide

Exposure:

Full sun to partial shade

Bloom Time:

Late spring

Color:

Chocolate burgundy foliage; pale pink flowers followed by red fruit.

Shiny dark foliage contrasts dramatically with the pastel flowers. One of the largest varieties, ‘Diabolo’ needs ample room to grow. Good for screening along a property line, at the back of a mixed border, or as a showy focal point. Also effective as erosion control along a slope.

Photo: Tim Ludwig / Millette Photomedia

‘Little Devil’ (syn. ‘Donna May’)
Physocarpus opulifolius

Zones:

3-7

Height/Spread:

Dwarf compact habit, 3-4 feet tall and wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Bloom Time:

Early summer

Color:

Greenish burgundy foliage is borne on red stems. White flowers are tinged with pink; red seedheads.

This petite, mildew-resistant variety is a good choice for small urban gardens. Grow as a foundation planting, hedging, or stand-alone accent in a container. The attractive red stems and exfoliating bark makes this a standout in the winter garden.

Photo: Mona Larochelle / Millette Photomedia

Amber Jubilee™ (syn. ‘Jefam’)
Physocarpus opulifolius

Zones:

2-7

Height/Spread:

Upright habit, 5-6 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Bloom Time:

Late spring

Color:

White flowers; new leaves start out orange with yellow veins, holding their color into summer, transitioning to purple in fall. Foliage on old wood is green in summer.

A hybrid cross between ‘Diabolo’ and ‘Dart’s Gold’, this variety is grown for its vibrant foliage and exceptional hardiness. Use as a hedge, screening, or a dramatic focal point in the landscape.

Photo: Rock Giguère / Millette Photomedia

‘Center Glow’
Physocarpus opulifolius

Zones:

3-7

Height/Spread:

Upright habit, 6-8 feet tall and wide

Exposure:

Full sun to partial shade

Bloom Time:

Late spring

Color:

White flowers; new growth emerges as greenish gold, maturing to deep burgundy red in summer, the leaves displaying all three colors as they mature.

The larger stature makes this a good choice as hedging, screening along a property line, at the back of a mixed border, or as a focal point in the landscape. This mildew-resistant variety benefits from some afternoon shade in hotter climates.

Photo: Mona Larochelle / Millette Photomedia

‘Dart’s Gold’
Physocarpus opulifolius

Zones:

3-7

Height/Spread:

Upright compact habit, 4-5 feet tall and wide

Exposure:

Full sun to partial shade

Bloom Time:

Late spring

Color:

White flowers; new foliage is bright yellow, turning chartreuse in summer, becoming tinged with hints of bronze in fall.

Grown for its brilliant golden foliage, ‘Dart’s Gold’ pairs well with purple foliaged plants such as Tuxedo™ weigela or ‘Royal Purple’ smoke bush for a dramatic contrast in the landscape. Grow as a hedge, in a mixed border or a stand-alone focal point. Resistant to powdery mildew.

Photo: Rock Giguère / Millette Photomedia

‘Lemon Candy’
Physocarpus opulifolius

Zones:

3-8

Height/Spread:

Mounding compact habit, 3-5 feet tall and wide

Exposure:

Full sun to partial shade

Bloom Time:

Late spring

Color:

New leaves emerge as bright yellow, transitioning to chartreuse in summer. White flowers, red stems.

This dwarf variety is a good alternative to ‘Dart’s Gold’ for smaller landscapes. Grow as hedging, a foundation planting, or in a container. Combine with complementary purple-foliaged plants for a striking contrast.

LANDSCAPING TIPS

There are many ways to incorporate ninebark into your landscape. Here’s how:

  • Create a naturescape, combining ninebark with other regional natives to benefit wildlife and pollinators.
  • Plant a row along a property line for privacy screening, and to define the border.
  • Use as hedging to break the landscape into individual garden rooms.
  • Plant a smaller variety in a pot and group with other containerized plants with complementary colors for a dynamic contrast.
  • Use as a background plant to set off flowering annuals and perennials.
  • Plant midway in a border in combination with other complementary shrubs, small trees and perennials.
  • Combine ninebark with milkweed, lantana, weigela, sage and tickseed to attract butterflies to your yard.
  • Use a smaller variety as edging along a pathway, as a foundation planting, or a stand-alone accent.

RELATED:
Top Perennial Plants for a Butterfly Garden
Best Flowering Shrubs for Season-Long Color

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