08 July 2009

Jodi's Gotta-Have Plants, Part 4: Nuts for Ninebarks

Regular readers know that I’m just as crazy about interesting foliage as I am about flowers when it comes to my garden. So it will likely come as no surprise to find that I’m enamoured of ninebarks, partly for their whimsical name, partly for their reputation as awesomely handsome and tough, four-season shrubs.

The ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) is native to parts of Canada and the United States: the good people who maintain the plant database at University of Connecticut indicate that its native range is from Quebec through to Tennessee, and I did see it in Missouri when I was there last August.

A member of the rose family, it’s a deciduous shrub, with multiple stems in its native form.
What makes the ninebark so desirable in the garden? There are several characteristics, one being its cultural requirements. It’s decidedly easy to grow, handing full sun to partial shade, and is very hardy. Most literature give the hardiness zones as ranging from 2-8, although for some cultivars the coldest zone recommendation is 3. Since I’m in 5b, I can grow any of them, although I’ve had mixed experience with the gold-foliage varieties. More on that in a bit. Ninebarks tolerate moist soils although they do appreciate good drainage. That being said, several of mine are in areas that don’t have ideal drainage, and they are doing just fine.

Some ninebarks can get rather gangly and benefit from pruning, but hold off taking the secateurs to yours if you like the flowers; prune once flowering is complete in late spring or early summer. You’ll lose some of the fruit clusters that show up later in the summer and hang on through fall, but you’ll have a more compact and attractive plant if you’re a tidy nut. Confession here: I have yet to prune our ninebarks at all, but will be trimming down Coppertina very soon.

Plant breeders have done wonderful things to the species, breeding for awesome foliage colour. You can find ninebarks with purple, copper, lime green and gold foliage, and most of these turn beautiful colours in the autumn before leaf drop. AFTER leaf drop, however, is when one of the ninebark’s most appealing traits is on good display: the peeling bark, which shows itself in reddish brown or tan strips on mature branches.

Popular and favourite varieties

Diabolo: Perhaps the most well-known ninebark cultivar is ‘Diabolo,’ also sometimes called ‘Diablo;’ its it has striking, deep purple foliage, against which the clusters of creamy white flowers show up particularly well. Ours is heading for ten feet tall and looks especially fine when the bright orange Asiatic lilies are in bloom beside it.

Nugget: I’m curious to hear other gardeners’ experience with ‘Nugget.’ Maybe the specimen I got a few years ago just wasn’t a particularly good one, (given where I got it from, that wouldn’t surprise me, but enough about that), but I found it to be very spleeny, languishing for several years before shuffling off its mortal coil to become a dead Nugget.

Dart’s Gold. This is a compact variety and is one of the parent plants of the newer variety ‘Center Glow’, another ninebark I haven’t yet tried. My Dart’s Gold is still quite small and has an annoying habit of getting leaf spots, whether because of disease or because it’s too wet where I planted it originally. I’m watching it closely this summer and if it needs to be moved, I’ll do that. (Photo from Kingsbrae Gardens)

Coppertina: I first read about this variety a few years ago, and then saw it growing in Ottawa. It was love at first sight, much like it was for Echinacea ‘Green Envy’; and interestingly, I have them growing together in the front garden, and find they complement each other beautifully. It’s a gorgeous plant, well named, with coppery foliage that deepens to wine in the autumn. Some have reported mildew problems on their ‘Coppertina’, but it’s not been a problem here as of yet. Or if it has been, I haven’t noticed, because I tend to ignore powdery mildew when it shows up on phlox or pulmonaria.

Summer Wine: Anna Flowergardengirl did an awesome post on Proven Winners’ Color Choice shrub Summer Wine, so I’d suggest you check out her comments. I don’t have this one yet, mostly because I simply haven’t gotten around to purchasing it. I’m thinking, however, that I have the right spot for it outside one of my office windows, so don’t be surprised if it shows up here in the not too distant future.


  1. Hi Jodi~~ I concur. Ninebark is a shrub that has it all. I'm always thinking I don't have space for another plant (let alone shrub) but a few months ago I was so smitten with 'Coppertina' I bought it. There's no looking back now.

  2. My Diabolo (P.opulifolius 'Monlo') has done very well despite being planted by the street, where it is subjected to salt spray and being partially buried by shoveled & plowed snow. I didn't plant it until after the drought year, but it tolerates my lousy, extremely well-drained soil. If I didn't have a Cotinus coggygria 'Ancot' (Golden Spirit) planted next to it, I'd get P. 'Dart's Gold,' which I saw widely planted at the Morton Arboretum.

  3. Yes Ninebark is a great shrub for color in the garden. I forget the name of the one I have but it is very colorful. I haven't noticed any berries on it. Maybe the birds get them before I have a look.

  4. They are one of my favorite shrubs I got Physocarpus Diablo D'or last year and the colour through the season is fantastic.

  5. I. Love. Ninebarks! I recently purchased one, but now I don't recall which it was. I need to go see which one now...!

  6. I just got two summer wines and dart's gold, and my coppertina is two year's old (bought it 1' tall and it's 6' already!). Love ninebarks!!! Hope my gold doesn't get spotty like yours. Thy are a very versatile and 4 season-wonder sort of shrub for sure.

  7. I love ninebark also, I work in a garden center and evey year I say I'm going to bring one home. But I haven't yet, I just don't know where I would put one. But they are beautiful. I am a burgandy lover and I agree leaves are just as important as the flowers in my garden...

  8. I really don't know much about ninebarks. My husband has planted several on our prairie/woodland land. I don't know the varieties but the leaves are beautiful and distinctive... Thank you for the informative post. :-) Hope you're feeling better.

  9. Jodi, I alwyas enjoy your posts on a particular plant. You write from experience which is a help to some one like me and you are objective in your assesments.

    Your pictures and descriptions whet my appetite and there goes my wish list getting longer by the day. :)

  10. I was just doing on search on Ninebarks earlier today! I'm glad to learn more about them here. Coppertina looks like one I'd like. I bought 'Green Envy' after reading about it here awhile ago. It's getting ready to bloom soon.

  11. What interesting plants! I've never heard of them before, so I suspect they haven't been introduced here or they don't do well in my climate. Loved the coppery one.

  12. Jodi, I have never grown ninebark, I don't think I have seen it in any gardens either but it is time I found room for one in my garden. Now I just need to decide which one!

    Lovely post, thank you. Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  13. Hi Jodi, thanks for showcasing these. But you didn't mention why they are called ninebark? Is it the peeling strips? My Summer Wine is not old enough to show that trait yet. I have pruned it both years it has been growing here, just the long gangly ones though. In flower it positively glows when backlit. A vision of magical wonder.

  14. My grandma planted 'Diablo' many years ago and they are now mature and just gorgeous.

    I looked for 'Coppertina' a few years ago when it first came out, but could never find it. Now it's out there everywhere and I actually turned it down when I saw it at Bench's when I visited Bren last month! I really have no good spot to put it, because last year I bought three 'Burgundy Star', which are reminiscent of 'Diablo' only more compact (reputedly).

    My mom's 'Diablo' got so large that she took two of them out and I was the lucky recipient of those. :-)

    Great post on a great shrub, Jodi!

  15. I just visited a garden that had ninebarks. this was the first time I ever saw them in the flesh. As it were. there was Diablo and a golden ninebark. I'm convinced. Now to shop.

  16. Thank you for the link and I love mine. You have introduced me to some I didn't know about. I wouldn't mind having more. Would love to see a whole hedge of them. Maybe I'll plant them against my back fence. They do a bit better down here in the heat laden South if you plant them near a plentiful water source. Not soggy mind you but with some moisture.

    Great post as usual.

  17. Hey there Jodi girl : )
    I still love my ninebark (Summer Wine) even though I have to say both Center Glow and Coppertina have bit the dust with the powdery mildew problem .. I was beginning to think it was 'me", but my Summer Wine is totally awesome and so far this new one that has the President's Choice brand, "Satin Chocolate" is doing great and I expect that amazing deep burgundy colour that Summer Wine displays in the Autumn .. so perhaps the two plants I bought at almost the same time were infected or susceptable to the mildew problem ?
    All in all I am still a huge fan of Ninbark no matter this experience with the dreaded PW ? LOL ... great post : )

  18. I saw a ninebark at a plant swap in May and wanted it but someone else had beaten me to it! It's on my list of plants to add. Great post!

  19. I love ninebark, but don't have the sun for it. The straight species just languished....much like your description of Nugget...then died. Dry shade was its end! If I could I'ld rip out a whole bunch of the forsythia hedge and replace it with Ninebark Diablo...must think about this a bit more! gail

  20. I've only just begun looking at ninebarks as a shrub I may want. I know my Mom wants one. Are they deer resistant?

  21. Jill-O, I'm not sure about ninebark's resistance to deer because deer have never been a problem here thanks to our attack donkey. Maybe other readers can comment?

  22. I dodn't have a space for shrubs in my garden, but these ones look so attractive...


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