Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator
I recently removed a larger overgrown, and invasive, burning bush in my yard and replaced it with an elderberry and a couple ninebarks.
Trends in the gardening world include using easy to grow, dependable plants with unusual features. There is also a push to use more native plants, especially those that attract beneficial pollinators. Ninebark meets all of these criteria.
Ninebark (Physocarpus opulus) is a deciduous shrub from the rose family. It is native to central and eastern North America, growing in zones 2 to 8. Its tolerance to drought, erosion, clay or rocky soils, and varying sun levels makes it an easy to grow, dependable plant. As the name describes, a distinguishing feature for this plant is its exfoliating bark that peels of in strips to expose layers of red to light brown inner bark.
I transplanted a common ninebark that was planted by the previous owners of our property. The straight species of ninebark grows five to nine feet wide and tall and will grow in part shade to full sun. Its leaves come out a chartreuse green in the spring, becoming green in summer. The 1 – 2 inch flower clusters in May are white to pinkish.
I also planted a Little Devil dwarf cultivar developed by First Editions. This version has dark burgundy leaves that nicely contrast the purplish-white flowers in June. This more upright spreading cultivar only grows three to four feet wide and tall and prefers full sun. It is a good substitution for barberry that is becoming invasive in many areas of the country.
There has been an explosion of ninebark cultivars in the past few years. Purple-leaved ones include 'Diablo' with reddish purple foliage and red fruit, instead of the usual brown fruit on other plants. 'Summer Wine' is 5-6 feet tall and wide with finely cut burgundy leaves. 'Coppertina' is taller at 8 feet with upright foliage that comes out bright copper turning rich red, especially in light shade. Yellow leaved versions include 'Gold's Dart' at four to five feet tall and 'Center Glow' that grows eight feet tall.
The taller ninebarks work best used in mass, border, or screen plantings. The smaller versions make nice grouping or compliments to larger shrubs of contrasting color.
This plant is a nice addition to a wildlife friendly garden. The fruits persist through winter to provide moderate food to birds and small mammals. Spring flowers are attractive nectar sources for butterflies and other pollinators.
If you are looking for a tough shrub with interesting features, give ninebark a try.
MEET THE AUTHOR
As horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. She focused on high quality, impactful programs that taught homeowners how to create energy-efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values and help the environment.
After 30 years with University of Illinois Extension, Rhonda retired in 2018. She continues to share her passion for horticulture related topics as “Retro Rhonda” on social media.
ABOUT THE BLOG
ILRiverHort is a blog that helps people connect to nature and grow.