Hubert P. Conlon is a University of Tennessee area extension specialist in ornamental horticulture. He gardens in Johnson City. He can be reached at

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Common Ninebark
by Hubert P. Conlon       #Hot Plants   #Natives   #Ornamentals   #Shrubs

Summer Wine  1

Little Devil 1

You may call it common or Eastern ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), but this shrub has become anything but common. Ninebark has been to finishing school with several fabulous new cultivars introduced. Bright, colorful foliage – burgundy, copper, gold and variegated – have replaced the standard medium green leaves of the old-fashioned ninebark. The species has been tamed, a lot more compact and less vigorous.

The new ninebarks fit multiple landscape situations: as a single specimen; several used as a dense-growing deciduous hedge, screen or border; or featured in a patio container. Ninebark is exceptionally cold hardy and flourishes in an aboveground container for many years (provided the potting soil or medium is replenished annually).

White (or pinkish) spiraea-like flower clusters 1½ - 2 inches wide open in May. Finally, as its name suggests, ninebark exhibits an inner dark cherry-colored bark wrapped in a thin gray-brown skin, which peels off in narrow strips.

Common Name: Common ninebark, Eastern ninebark

Botanical Name: Physocarpus opulifolius

Zone: 2 to 8 

Cultivars: Summer Wine, Coppertina, Center Glow, Diabolo, Little Devil

Type: Medium to large shrub or a small deciduous tree

Size: 3-10 feet tall (depending on variety) and 10-12 feet spread (native species)

When to Plant: Easy to transplant in any season, whether balled-and-burlapped or container grown.

Exposure: Best in full sun, OK in partial shade (minimum 6 hours sunlight).

Soil: Grows in any soil type; tolerates wet, soggy ground; either an alkaline or acidic pH.

Watering: Irrigate to properly establish ninebark; has exceptional drought tolerance thereafter.

When to Prune: Annual pruning recommended to reign in its vigor. Diabolo can be pruned into a small tree by removing lower branches; therefore accenting its lovely exfoliating bark.

In the Landscape: New choices with colorful foliage and compact growing habits increase the versatility of ninebark in the Tennessee landscape. White or pink spiraea-like flower clusters in May. Bronze or drab yellow autumn leaf color of no consequence. Winter bark accent offers multi-seasonal interest.


Hugh’s five favorite ninebark cultivars:

Cultivar Plant height x width (ft) Spring/Summer Foliage*
Summer Wine 5-6’  x  6’    deeply cut burgundy red
Coppertina 6-8’  x  6-8’ copper tinted
Center Glow 8-10’ x 8-10’  red wine/lime-yellow center
Diabolo 8-10’ x 8-10’ reddish purple
Little Devil 3-4’ x  4-5’ deep burgundy

* Spring foliage colors start to fade or dull in midsummer on most cultivars


The clear yellow foliage of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Dart’s Gold’ is so vibrant that it almost looks like forsythia in full bloom! I am normally not particularly fond of yellow-foliaged plants, but I have to admit that this one makes a dramatic impact in the landscape.  2

Diabolo (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Monlo’) was introduced by Monrovia Nursery in 1999, and became an instant hit.  Here it serves as a colorful backdrop for this stately garden bench.  2


The flower clusters add texture and visual diversity to the clear yellow foliage of ‘Dart’s Gold’ ninebark.  2

Exfoliating bark is a wonderful characteristic that adds a definite bonus in the winter landscape, but also lends a great contrast to the colorful foliage in summer.  2


Photo Credits:
1 - Photo courtesy of Bailey’s Nursery.
2 - Photo courtesy of Peter Gallagher, Ph. D.


Posted: 06/03/11   RSS | Print


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