Caring For Physocarpus Ninebark – How To Grow A Ninebark Bush


By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden

Commonly named for the attractive, exfoliating bark of the species, growing ninebark shrubs is simple. Learning how to grow a ninebark bush successfully is primarily in the location and soil you choose. The Physocarpus ninebark, a North American native, prefers a soil that is only slightly acidic.

Growing Ninebark Shrubs

Though the Physocarpus ninebark family is small, ninebark shrub info indicates there is a cultivar for every landscape. Most ninebark shrub info varies on climates that support growing ninebark shrubs, but most agree the Physocarpus ninebark and newer cultivars do well if planted in USDA Zones 2 through 7.

Learning how to grow a ninebark bush includes the proper location and correct planting of the ninebark bush. Dig a hole as deep as the container holding the shrub and twice as wide. Make sure the crown of the ninebark is even with the top of the soil surrounding the planting area.

After planting, fill in with backfill taken when digging the hole. Gently fill in around the roots to make sure there are no air pockets and water well until established.

Physocarpus ninebark shrubs like a sunny to lightly shaded location. With correct ninebark shrub care, the species reaches 6 to 10 feet (2-3 m.) in height and 6 to 8 feet (2 m.) in height. Allow room for the well-branching shrub to spread out when planting in the landscape, as ninebark shrub care does not necessarily include heavy pruning.

Ninebark Shrub Care

Established ninebark shrubs are drought tolerant and can thrive with only occasional watering and limited fertilization in spring with a balanced fertilizer as part of ninebark shrub care.

Pruning for shape and thinning inner branches will likely be all that is necessary to keep growing ninebark shrubs healthy and attractive. If you prefer, renewal pruning to a foot (31 cm.) above the ground can be included in ninebark shrub care during dormancy every few years, but you’ll miss the excellent winter interest of the ninebark’s peeling bark.

Some cultivars of the shrub are smaller and more compact. ‘Seward Summer Wine’ reaches only 5 feet (1.5 m.) and displays reddish purple foliage with whitish pink flowers in spring. ‘Little Devil’ reaches just 3 to 4 feet (1 m.) around in height, with deep burgundy foliage to accent the pink blooms.

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Dwarf Ninebark Little Devil™ (Physocarpus opulifolius)

Features

Rich burgundy-tinged foliage creates a beautiful backdrop for clusters of dainty pink blooms that are produced over a long season in summer. This compact, dwarf variety is perfect for small space gardens, large patio planters, or planted among blooming plants in a mixed border. Exceptionally resistant to pests and mildew and an excellent source of long-season color. U.S. Plant Patent #22,634. Also known as 'Donna May'.

An excellent specimen, foundation, or border plant. Beautiful grouped or massed in a shrub border. Excellent for planting along fences and walls.

Plant Feed

Apply a fertilizer formulated for acid loving varieties.

Watering

Basic Care Summary

For best results, plant in acidic, fertile but well-drained soil. Keep soil moist, watering freely in dry weather. Prune when dormant, in late autumn or late winter.

Planting Instructions

Plant in spring or early fall to give plants the best start.

Choose a location that will allow roots to spread and branches to grow freely. Space plants far enough from building foundations, walls, and decks so that the growing foliage won't crowd the structure. Consider whether tall trees or shrubs will block windows or interfere with the roof or power lines.

To prepare the planting area dig a hole as deep as the root ball and three times as wide. After removing the soil, mix it with some compost or peat moss. This enriches the soil and loosens the existing dirt so that new roots can spread easily.

To remove the plant from the container, gently brace the base of the plant, tip it sideways and tap the outside of the pot to loosen. Rotate the container and continue to tap, loosening the soil until the plant pulls smoothly from the pot. The container can also be removed by carefully cutting it down the side.

Set the plant in the hole. If the root ball is wrapped in burlap fabric this must now be removed along with any string or wire securing the burlap. If roots are tightly packed gently rake them apart with your fingers.

Return the soil to the planting area packing it firmly around the root ball. Fill the hole until the soil line is just at the base of the plant, where the roots begin to flare out from the main stem.

Water the plant well then add a 2” (5cm) layer of mulch, such as shredded bark, around the planting area. Keep the mulch at least 4” (10cm) away from the trunk of the plant as this can keep the bark too moist and cause it to decay.

Watering Instructions

Depending on rainfall, new plants need to be watered weekly through the first growing season. A slow, one-hour trickle of water should do the job. During hot spells thoroughly soaking the ground up to 8” (20 cm) every few days is better than watering a little bit daily. Deep watering encourages roots to grow further into the ground resulting in a sturdier plant with more drought tolerance.

To check for soil moisture use your finger or a hand trowel to dig a small hole and examine the soil. If the first 2-4” (5-10cm) of soil is dry, it is time to water.

Monitor new plants through the first two years to make sure they are getting the moisture they need. After that they should be sturdy enough to survive on their own.

Fertilizing Instructions

Established trees should be fertilized every 2-3 years. Feed in early spring when plants start growing.

Fertilizers are available in many forms: granulated, slow-release, liquid feeds, organic or synthetic. Determine which application method is best for the situation and select a product designed for trees and shrubs, or go with a nutritionally balanced, general-purpose formula such as 10-10-10.

Always follow the fertilizer package directions for application rates and scheduling. Over-fertilizing plants or applying at the wrong time during the growing season can result in plant injury.

Pruning Instructions

Pruning may be needed to remove dead branches, encourage bushier growth, promote more flowers, or maintain a specific size or shape.

Dead branches should be removed close to the trunk, flush with the bark. When pruning to control a plant's size or shape, cuts should be made just above a leaf bud and at a slight angle. This bud will be where the new growth sprouts.

Many shrubs can be regularly sheared to keep them shaped as a hedge, edging or formal foundation planting.

Always use sharp, clean tools when pruning. There are many tools available depending on the job. Hand shears, pruners, and loppers are ideal for most shrubs. Pole pruners and tree saws are better for large, mature shrubs or trees. If a tree is so large that it can't be safely pruned with a pole pruner, it is best to call in a professional tree service.


Plant Finder

Physocarpus opulifolius 'Jefam'

Amber Jubilee™ Ninebark foliage

Amber Jubilee™ Ninebark foliage

Other Names: Eastern Ninebark

Quite the colorful shrub, this garden beauty boasts yellow-orange-red new foliage in spring and summer, maturing to lime green then purple in the fall a compact variety that will grow nearly anywhere

Amber Jubilee™ Ninebark features showy clusters of white flowers at the ends of the branches from late spring to early summer, which emerge from distinctive pink flower buds. It has attractive deciduous orange foliage with yellow veins and tinges of lime green which emerges yellow in spring. The serrated lobed leaves are highly ornamental and turn an outstanding deep purple in the fall. It features abundant showy red capsules from early to mid fall. The peeling tan bark and indian red branches add an interesting dimension to the landscape.

Amber Jubilee™ Ninebark is a multi-stemmed deciduous shrub with an upright spreading habit of growth. Its average texture blends into the landscape, but can be balanced by one or two finer or coarser trees or shrubs for an effective composition.

This shrub will require occasional maintenance and upkeep, and can be pruned at anytime. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Amber Jubilee™ Ninebark is recommended for the following landscape applications

  • Accent
  • Mass Planting
  • Hedges/Screening
  • General Garden Use

Amber Jubilee™ Ninebark will grow to be about 6 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 4 feet. It has a low canopy, and is suitable for planting under power lines. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 30 years.

This shrub does best in full sun to partial shade. It is very adaptable to both dry and moist locations, and should do just fine under average home landscape conditions. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments. This is a selection of a native North American species.


Podcast Transcript

Some common names of plants can be a bit of an exaggeration. Sneeze weed really doesn’t make people sneeze. Devil’s walking stick may have thorns on it, but it’s that intimidating and monkey puzzle tree doesn’t need monkey to figure out how to climb it. A common shrub in our area, nine bark also falls into this same category. This hardy shrub has attractive colorful leaves and flowers, and beautiful fruits. In winter the bark exfoliates in layers, hence the common name nine bark. I don’t think it looks like nine different types of bark, but it is attractive.

Physocarpus opulifolius is hardy in zones 3 to 8. It grows 4 to 6 feet tall and wide in full to part sun locations on well-drained soil. It’s closely related to spirea so blooms around the same time with similar looking whitish-pink flowers. But ninebark fhe flowers give way to drooping clusters of red fruit. By fall the green leafed varieties turn yellow.

The big selling point of ninebarks are the newer varieties. ‘Diablo’ has been around awhile now, but touts burgundy colored leaves that contrast beautifully with the white flowers. ‘Summer Wine’ is a newer burgundy-leafed variety that has a more compact shape. There are also yellow-leafed varieties such as ‘Dart’s Gold’ and orange leafed varieties such as ‘Amber Jubilee’ that has reddish-purple foliage in fall.

Grow ninebark

Nine barks are relatively pest free and easy to grow. Branches will sometimes dieback, but the shrub responds well to severe pruning, even to the ground. The best time to cut it back is after flowering. It’s suited to places in your landscape where spirea grows. They can be specimens as a foundation plant, used in hedgerow or even used for erosion control on banks. Some varieties sucker freely filling in vacant areas quickly.


Hardiness and Growing Conditions

From a practical point of view the most striking thing about Ninebark is its hardiness. This plant is reliably hardy even in zone 2, although some of the developed forms may have zone 3 as their lower limit without some damage. This makes it an invaluable landscape plant in zones 2, 3, 4 and 5. It will also grow in zones 6 and 7, but it may struggle in the heat and humidity of the south east in zone 8. In hotter, drier climates it should survive well in zone 8.

Ninebark will grow in full sun or partial shade, and tolerate bright full shade too, although with some loss of vigor. This makes it highly adaptable in gardens, able to grow pretty much wherever it is planted.

This is one plant that is not fussy about soil. It will grow in acid or alkaline soils, including difficult, very alkaline serpentine soils. It grows in sand, loam and clay easily, and even tolerates construction debris, that often makes up garden ‘soil’ in urban gardens. Gravel and rocky soil is part of its natural habitat, and it seems to be just as happy in dry conditions as it is in wet soil, so wherever you need a tough plant, ninebark is your friend.


Ninebark 'Red Baron' (Physocarpus opulifolius)

Features

This rugged beauty is tolerant of air pollution, drought, and wind. The deep red foliage is a great source of color all season long. Expect small clusters of pink flowers in early summer, followed by decorative red berries. The bark peels revealing layers of brown tones the source of this shrubs common name, “Ninebark”.

An excellent specimen, foundation, or border plant. Beautiful grouped or massed in a shrub border. Excellent for planting along fences and walls.

Plant Feed

Apply a fertilizer formulated for acid loving varieties.

Watering

Basic Care Summary

For best results, plant in acidic, fertile but well-drained soil. Keep soil moist, watering freely in dry weather. Prune when dormant, in late autumn or late winter.

Planting Instructions

Plant in spring or early fall to give plants the best start.

Choose a location that will allow roots to spread and branches to grow freely. Space plants far enough from building foundations, walls, and decks so that the growing foliage won't crowd the structure. Consider whether tall trees or shrubs will block windows or interfere with the roof or power lines.

To prepare the planting area dig a hole as deep as the root ball and three times as wide. After removing the soil, mix it with some compost or peat moss. This enriches the soil and loosens the existing dirt so that new roots can spread easily.

To remove the plant from the container, gently brace the base of the plant, tip it sideways and tap the outside of the pot to loosen. Rotate the container and continue to tap, loosening the soil until the plant pulls smoothly from the pot. The container can also be removed by carefully cutting it down the side.

Set the plant in the hole. If the root ball is wrapped in burlap fabric this must now be removed along with any string or wire securing the burlap. If roots are tightly packed gently rake them apart with your fingers.

Return the soil to the planting area packing it firmly around the root ball. Fill the hole until the soil line is just at the base of the plant, where the roots begin to flare out from the main stem.

Water the plant well then add a 2” (5cm) layer of mulch, such as shredded bark, around the planting area. Keep the mulch at least 4” (10cm) away from the trunk of the plant as this can keep the bark too moist and cause it to decay.

Watering Instructions

Depending on rainfall, new plants need to be watered weekly through the first growing season. A slow, one-hour trickle of water should do the job. During hot spells thoroughly soaking the ground up to 8” (20 cm) every few days is better than watering a little bit daily. Deep watering encourages roots to grow further into the ground resulting in a sturdier plant with more drought tolerance.

To check for soil moisture use your finger or a hand trowel to dig a small hole and examine the soil. If the first 2-4” (5-10cm) of soil is dry, it is time to water.

Monitor new plants through the first two years to make sure they are getting the moisture they need. After that they should be sturdy enough to survive on their own.

Fertilizing Instructions

Established trees should be fertilized every 2-3 years. Feed in early spring when plants start growing.

Fertilizers are available in many forms: granulated, slow-release, liquid feeds, organic or synthetic. Determine which application method is best for the situation and select a product designed for trees and shrubs, or go with a nutritionally balanced, general-purpose formula such as 10-10-10.

Always follow the fertilizer package directions for application rates and scheduling. Over-fertilizing plants or applying at the wrong time during the growing season can result in plant injury.

Pruning Instructions

Pruning may be needed to remove dead branches, encourage bushier growth, promote more flowers, or maintain a specific size or shape.

Dead branches should be removed close to the trunk, flush with the bark. When pruning to control a plant's size or shape, cuts should be made just above a leaf bud and at a slight angle. This bud will be where the new growth sprouts.

Many shrubs can be regularly sheared to keep them shaped as a hedge, edging or formal foundation planting.

Always use sharp, clean tools when pruning. There are many tools available depending on the job. Hand shears, pruners, and loppers are ideal for most shrubs. Pole pruners and tree saws are better for large, mature shrubs or trees. If a tree is so large that it can't be safely pruned with a pole pruner, it is best to call in a professional tree service.


Watch the video: Pruning Ninebark


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