University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
AND ATTRACTIVE SHRUBS
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
Once considered a non-descript
native shrub for the old-fashioned garden, breeders have transformed
into a popular and desirable landscape plant.
With various leaf colors besides green, from yellows to dark red,
attractive flowers and bark, the ability to withstand tough
conditions, and few
if any pests or diseases, ninebark is a low maintenance, easy to
attractive group of large shrubs.
Common Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) gets its name
from the several layers of peeling (“exfoliating”) bark on mature
reveal reddish to light brown inner bark, particularly attractive in
when they can be seen easily. This shrub
has an upright, spreading habit, and generally reaches 5 to 8 feet
tall and 6
to 10 feet wide, although there are some smaller cultivars
In landscapes, ninebark can be used
in masses, or as a screen or informal hedge.
Mix in the back of perennial beds as an accent or specimen, or use
cultivars as a backdrop. On large banks
it can be used for erosion control. Be aware when planting and using
landscapes that all parts of this plant can be poisonous to humans
if ingested. Ninebarks are generally resistant to deer
If you want to keep the plant more
tidy, some of the oldest branches can be pruned out in spring, or
the plant can
be trimmed to shape after bloom. Cut back the stems about one-third
after bloom to
make plants more bushy. Don’t prune past mid-summer. If a plant is
large and out of control, it can
be cut back to near the ground in late winter to rejuvenate, and it
Listed as native to eastern North
America, it is more common in U.S.D.A. hardiness zones 2 through 7
U.S. and Quebec to Tennessee and northern Alabama). There are
several other less common species,
although the native Pacific Ninebark (P.
capitatus) is commonly seen in coastal western states and
provinces, into Alaska. A dwarf cultivar of the common ninebark
been used to develop improved lower selections.
Ninebark in the wild often is found
along streams and watersides, even in areas that occasionally flood,
it will tolerate a range of soil conditions including drought once
established. It will grow in full sun to part shade.
Ninebark is in the rose family, and
is closely related to the spirea shrubs with similar flowers in late
early summer. The white to pinkish flowers
are in dense, rounded clusters (“corymbs”) and are attractive to
butterflies. They’re followed by red seeds, brighter in
some cultivars, that are attractive to birds.
Leaves can reach 4 inches long, and are egg-shaped (“ovate”) to
and often have 4 to 5 lobes. Depending on cultivar, leaves come in
colors including dark red to purple, yellows and oranges.
Ninebark is no longer just “common”,
with various comparisons describing its transformation into a
attractive landscape plant, such as a frog changed to a prince, or
duckling to a swan. The first of the new
introductions, from 2000, and still popular is Diabolo (or
‘Monlo’). It came about in Europe where ninebark are
quite popular, and used for wildlife and erosion control. This
“sport” with dark leaves was found in a
nursery, and put into production by the German nurseryman Gunter
Diabolo has dark reddish purple
leaves which fade to more green as summer progresses, then orange to
colors in fall. Its twiggy habit has
been improved in newer cultivars. ‘Lady in Red’
(more often seen as Ruby Spice) is an introduction from a British
being a sport of Diabolo
with pink flowers. It has more compact
habit and brighter leaves.
Another improvement is the popular Summer
Wine—a cross by a Michigan nurseryman of Diabolo with the dwarf
ninebark. Only reaching 5 to 6 feet tall, it starts out
with orange leaves which turn reddish burgundy to dark purple.
These contrast nicely with the soft pink
flowers early in the season. Summer Wine
has much better resistance to powdery mildew disease—the whitish
growth on leaf
surfaces in mid summer—than the many other cultivars.
Newer, dark-leaved, low introductions are good
for use in fronts of borders or along walks, and in small
landscapes. They make excellent alternatives to the
invasive red-leaved barberries. Little
Devil (‘Donna May’, from a Minnesota breeder in 2005) only reaches 3
to 4 feet
high and wide, as does Tiny Wine. The
pink flowers of the latter are different in that they are dense
Burgundy Candy is part of the Gumdrop
collection of ninebarks which came from breeding in Ithaca, New York
among ninebark seedlings. This one is only
2 feet high and 2 to 3 feet wide with, as its name indicates,
The original yellow leaved
cultivars, still popular and found in nurseries, are ‘Dart’s Gold’
‘Nugget’. Both are crosses of the older
and large ‘Luteus’ cultivar, which doesn’t hold the yellow color
summer, with the dwarf ninebark. ‘Dart’s
Gold’ was bred in Holland, while ‘Nugget’ was bred at North Dakota
University. Both are about 5 feet tall,
and many growers consider ‘Nugget’ to have the more uniform and
habit. Leaves emerge bright golden yellow, aging to lime green, then
golden in fall. Similar in height and size to Burgundy Candy is
only with bright yellow leaves.
‘Dart’s Gold’ has been crossed with
Diabolo for selections with more orange or coppery leaves.
Coppertina (‘Mindia’ or Diable D’Or) from
France in 2002 is similar to Diabolo only being more compact and
leaves that begin coppery early transforming to dark red, smaller
and good powdery mildew resistance. ‘Center
Glow’ leaves emerge bright red with golden yellow bases, then mature
purple. This cultivar was developed by
breeder Harold Pellet at the University of Minnesota in 2002.
Amber Jubilee arose in 2003 from a
nursery in Manitoba as a cross of Diabolo with ‘Dart’s Gold’. It
has in gold, yellow, and orange right
through the season, then they take on red and purple in the fall.
Similar in height and size to Burgundy Candy
is Caramel Candy, only with dark green leaves that emerge dark red.