Ninebark? Why not ten or eight bark my husband inquired. These are the type of questions I get when walking through a garden and trying to talk about plants with him. Gladly, this is my chance to wax poetic about plants. Here begins my enthusiasm about Ninebark.

Physocarpus opulifolius, commonly called ninebark, is an upright, spreading, somewhat coarse, deciduous shrub. It is native through much of North America.

Dr. Michael Dirr, a legend in the horticulture world, once said “about anything is better than a Physocarpus.” That may have been true about common ninebark, but not about today’s cultivars with colorful foliage and the tough genetics of the species. Amber Jubilee™ and Little Devil™ Ninebarks are now included in Dr. Dirr’s presentations on top performing landscape shrubs.

Layers of exfoliating bark, “nine lives”, is what gives Physocarpus the common name of ninebark. Usually hidden by foliage during the growing season, the unique bark provides winter interest and makes a good background plant for beds and borders.

Easy to grow, it is adaptable to conditions ranging from dry, rocky sites to wet soils. Make sure to note mature size when selecting a site to plant. That way you allow plenty of room for this sprawling beauty.

Great for songbird gardens, the dense branches and foliage of ninebark provide shelter for birds’ nests. After the rush of spring is over, ninebark’s small pom-pom flowers open in May and June, and are a nectar source for butterflies and native bees. The red seed capsules that follow are a food source for birds.

Amber Jubilee™ (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Jefam’)
If there is room for only one ninebark, First Edition’s Amber Jubilee™ would be my choice. The color transformation from spring when the foliage first emerges through fall is beautiful. Yellow, orange to green and purple, the foliage is outstanding. Amber Jubilee™ is named in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. Full sun for best foliage color. Matures 5-6’ x 4’.

Coppertina® (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Mindia’)
A cross between Dart’s Gold and Diabolo® Ninebarks, the foliage of Proven Winners’ Coppertina® emerges copper orange in the spring and matures to red in the summer. Blush pink flowers in spring. Foliar problems are reduced with good air circulation. Matures 6-8’ x 6-8’.

Lemon Candy (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Podaras 3’)
Filled with notes on plants I’ve tried over the years, my treasured 1996 Longview Gardens catalog is still a great resource. Nugget Ninebark is the only ninebark listed in that catalog with a description of “triangular gold foliage.” Today, the choice for a golden ninebark is Ball Ornamental’s Lemon Candy with “freaky fluorescent gold foliage.” Best with morning sun, afternoon shade. Matures 4-5’ x 4-5’.

Little Devil™ (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Donna May’)
First Edition’s Little Devil™ has small deep burgundy leaves and blush pink flowers. Originally thought to be a smaller maturing plant in the early trials, it is proving otherwise. Matures 4-5’ x 4-5’.

Summer Wine (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Seward’)
Proven Winners’ Summer Wine Ninebark is in my backyard garden that includes Butterflies Magnolia with Virginia Bluebells and Lily of the Valley at the base, repeat flowering Bloomerang Lilac, and Fine Line Buckthorn. Helping to screen neighbors and our compost pile, the plantings provide color from early spring through fall. I love the lilac’s flowers against the backdrop of ninebark’s purple foliage. The arching branches of ninebark help break up the vertical lines of the other plants. Though planted in part shade, it does well in full sun. Matures 5-6’ x 5-6’.

Tiny Wine® (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘SMPOTW’)
Tiny Wine® Ninebark is a good substitute for Crimson Pygmy Barberry for gardeners wishing to avoid thorns but wanting a pop of color from a small shrub. Proven Winners’ Tiny Wine® has dark maroon foliage. Matures 3’ x 3’.

My husband will probably forget the reason for the name ninebark as he is more interested in talking about sports than plants. However, he is appreciative of my love of gardening, trying new plants and seeing what happens. And, he knows that plants that thrive on neglect and ignored by rabbits are most at home in our landscape.

Susan Mertz, Garden Writer and Director of Marketing at Loma Vista Nursery. Join her for tours and photographs of gardens at

To view more ninebark images, see them in the online version of the May 2016 issue at

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