As I continue my fall clean up around the garden I can’t help but notice which shrubs have made it through the season looking good and which have not. I garden in a zone 5 area that receives very little rainfall and very hot temperatures. Not an easy environment for anything growing to stay looking attractive right up to frost. The ninebark shrub however manages to do just that.
The proper name for common ninebark is Pysocarpus opulifolius. There are very short groundcover ninebarks but I prefer to grow the taller shrubs at about 8 to 10 feet tall. I first began growing the golden leafed varieties such as ‘Dart’s Gold’ and ‘Golden’. Brilliant yellow leaves emerge in the spring which bring the garden alive. This shrub will grow in sun to partial shade, average soil and water, withstand harsh winters and tolerate quite a bit of drought. I try to keep mine watered as the leaves will curl and dry a bit if left dry for too long. In early summer there are clusters of white or pink flowers which turn to showy red seed pods. There is really never a time that the shrub does not show well.
The beauty of ninebarks is that they require no special care. You can use them as an accent plant, mass plant them for a hedge or screen or even plant them close to a hot wall where little else will do well. Prune in late winter before leaves appear to encourage new growth and bright foliage. To keep them looking there best, thin and cut back strongly every year.
After years of enjoying the yellow ninebarks there are now beautiful bronze-red leaved cultivars. The first to hit the market was physocarpus Diabolo and it is still my favorite. Eight feet tall by 4 feet wide it grows in a beautiful vase shape with no pruning on my part. Large purple leaves that contrast with the clusters of white flowers in spring and red seedpods throughout summer. It’s a pretty shrub that never lets me down.
Since the introduction of ninebark Diabolo there has been a steady stream of new cultivars. There are all attractive, but I still find that ‘Diabolo’ out shines them in vigor and shape. A few cultivars you might want to look for are:
Center Glow – leaves start out as yellow then turn to red burgundy and later to deep purple. Particularly attractive in early summer.
Coppertina – green-copper foliage is followed by purple-red leaves.
Amber Jubilee – new growth is orange, yellow and red. Matures to dark green with tones of red and purple.
Nanus – the first dwarf variety, growing to 3 or 4 feet. I have not found this cultivar to stay particularly dwarfed and have had to move it because of this trait.
Summer Wine – Another dwarf ninebark, improved over ‘Nanus’.
Little Devil – The smallest of the dwarfs at 3 feet tall.