How to Grow Ninebark, a Shrub That Offers Visual Intrigue All Year Long
"There is a place for ninebark in just about any garden," says Kelly D. Norris, a landscape designer and author of New Naturalism ($24.51, amazon.com), of this year-round looker. Naturally occurring in North America, the deciduous shrub—genus Physocarpus—comes in an arresting range of colors and sizes. In spring, foliage emerges in splashy hues like chartreuse, copper, and deep purple. By early summer, small globes of pink or white blooms appear, attracting pollinators like native bees, butterflies, and birds, which nest in its branches. (Stems last a week or more in arrangements, too—just slice their ends before putting them in a vase.) After the leaves drop in fall, the exfoliating bark on mature plants unfurls in strips of cinnamon, gray, and charcoal. But ninebark doesn't just look good: "It's a tough, no-fuss plant," Norris says. "Find a variety you love, dig a hole, and you'll be off to the races."
If you're tight on space, plant a dwarf cultivar like 'Little Devil' in a container. To create a hedge or screen, line up multiple plants (Martha is growing 'Diabolo' around her pool). You can also jazz up a border by adding one in a contrasting foliage color as a focal point, or replace barberry and spirea shrubs with this beneficial native. "Ninebark can grow in sand, heavy clay, and everything in between," says Norris, and it does well in full sun or part-shade. (The more light it gets, the more vibrant its leaves will be.) It doesn't need fertilizer or watering except in severe drought. "Every few years in late winter, give your shrub a rejuvenating whack to the ground," Norris advises. "That might seem drastic, but it will pay you dividends when handsome new growth comes rushing back. Below, several of our favorite ninebark varieties to try in your own space.
This chameleon's spring leaves sprout flaming orange (see above), then shift to bright green in summer and burgundy in autumn.
The cultivar can reach eight feet in height. For a more compact variety with a similar look, opt for 'Fireside'.
Its vivid-yellow foliage is like sunshine. If you're in a hot, humid region, try 'Festivus Gold' instead; it's resistant to powdery mildew.
Marked by arching branches, this species often grows naturally on riverbanks, where it helps stop erosion by holding soil in place.