The Plant Native

Ninebark

Highlights

Ninebark is named after something rarely mentioned in plants—its bark. Ninebark’s bark peels back to reveal beautiful layers, almost like petals on a rose.

Ninebarks are a true four-season shrub, changing dramatically throughout the year. In the spring, clusters of delicate flowers bloom make pollinators go crazy. In the summer, leaves tumble down long graceful stems. In the fall and winter, blooms become berries for birds, and leaves fall to reveal striking branches. Ninebarks grow fast and like a wide range of light, from shade to full sun. Plant a stunning Ninebark and watch the show.

Full Sun – Part Shade
10-15′ tall
Flowers in the spring
Physocarpus opulifolius

Why Ninebark named for its bark and not its gorgeous flowers is a mystery

Dig Deeper

Explore the history, types, and where to plant native Ninebarks

Table of Contents

Ninebark is a gorgeous shrub native to a huge section of North America. It grows extremely fast and returns four seasons of beauty (including both blooms and berries for birds.) In this article, we will explore how Ninebark changes throughout the seasons, tips on how to grow, and introduce a few different species perfect for your garden. Let’s dig in, shall we?

Why is it called Ninebark?

Ninebark’s common name comes from its unique bark, which peels away as it ages revealing layers below, looking almost like petals on a rose. Since there are not nine layers of bark, we can assume it’s called Ninebark for poetic reasons (threebark just doesn’t sound as lovely.) The older the plant is, the more pronounced the peeling becomes.

Ninebark throughout the seasons

Ninebarks change dramatically throughout the seasons in wildly different ways, but somehow look amazing no matter what. (They are the Cate Blanchett of native gardening.)

spring

In the early spring, Ninebarks cover their long stems in grape-like leaves and tiny buds. (These are the reddish leaves of a Ninebark cultivar—read on to find out more!)

summer

In the early summer, Ninebarks put out delicate clusters of beautiful flowers in tiny, dome-shaped bouquets.

fall

In the fall, the flowers change to tiny fruits, becoming tiny buffets for songbirds.

winter

In the winter, the fruits hang like confetti from the arched branches, providing important food for birds in the coldest months. And then they start the show all over again.

Native Ninebark

Common Ninebark

(Physocarpus opulifolius)

The “Common Ninebark” or “Atlantic Ninebark” has green leaves alongside domes of white blossoms that team with pollinators in the springtime.

Ninebark cultivars offer so many leaf colors!

Cultivar Ninebarks

Ninebark has many cultivar options with different colored leaves and flowers. Cultivars are plants created by humans to offer something a true native plant doesn’t, like different colors, heights, or drought tolerance.

Although cultivars offer variety, nothing beats a true native plant when it comes to offering food and habitat for birds and pollinators—so please plant true natives when possible. That said, cultivars are always better than non-natives. Some popular cultivars include:

Ninebark 'Summer wine'

(Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer wine’)

Summer Wine’ has dark purple leaves with hints of cabernet red, alongside light pink flowers.

Ninebark 'Festivus Gold'

(Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Festivus Gold’)

Ninebark “Festivus Gold” is strangely named for a Seinfeld holiday (?) and has neon-green leaves and bright white flowers.

Ninebark 'Center Glow'

(Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Center Glow’)

Ninebark “Center Glow” is aptly named for the way color spreads from the center of its leaves to the leaf edges. 

Native vs. cultivar

Plant true native plants whenever possible. Cultivars (short for CULTivated VARieties) are selected and made by humans and do not offer the same benefits to bugs, birds, and animals that native plants do. 

How to grow Ninebark

Ninebark is so easy to grow because they like a large variety of sun and water. Whether it’s part sun, full sun, wet, or dry—Ninebarks will thrive. They grow very fast as well. Their long branches grow quickly over the spring and summer growing period.

  • Ninebark are perennials, so they will come back year after year. Once you plant them and they are happily established, you can enjoy them in your yard for years.
  • Ninebarks like a wide range of sun. Sunny, part sun, and part shade are all great for Ninebarks.
  • Ninebark likes a wide range of water conditions. Whether you plant them in drier soils or wetter areas, ninebark will thrive. They are a very easy plant to grow.

Grow Ninebark from plants

It’s easy to grow Ninebark and it’s also very easy to find ninebark plants at your local nursery or plant sales. Ninebarks are relatively easy to find, compared to other native shrubs. Even Lowes or Home Depot have at times carried Ninebark—although we highly recommend buying from local nurseries. Local nurseries have better Ninebark selections (more kinds! more sizes! more colors!) than any big-box store.

Here are three reliable ways to find Ninebark plants:

1

Buy from a local plant nursery

Your local nursery will have nineflower shrubs to buy, especially at the end of spring / early summer. Whenever possible, buy native plants from local nurseries. Home Depot and Lowes cannot beat the plant selection at local nurseries.

2

Find a local plant swap

Ninebarks are easy to dig up or propogate and give away. Search local gardening groups on Facebook to find local gardeners who often give away plants during the spring and fall.

3

Visit local plant sales in the spring

Almost all local plant organizations and gardens host plant sales in the spring. These plant sales often include plants that are not available at conventional nurseries. Here’s a list of native garden societies by state and province.

What to plant with Ninebark

Ninebark is an understory shrub—or a shrub that likes to live snuggled underneath larger trees. Because of its preferred home, it’s lovely beside other plants that like shade or part shade, including Heuchera, Mountain Laurel, Golden Alexander, and Rhododendrons.

Heuchera 'Green-Spice' by Patrick Standish

Alum Root (Heuchera)

flame-azalea-native-plant-shrub

Azalea

#image_title

Golden Alexander

mountain-laurel-native-shrub-flower

Mountain Laurel

#image_title

Pawpaw Tree

rosebay-rhododendron-native-shrub-flowering

Rhododendron

We hope this guide to Ninebark got you inspired to plant a few. Ninebarks are extremely easy to plant, fast growers, and will come back year-after-year looking amazing. The native variety is paired with many fun cultivar versions, each offering different colors and sizes. 

Wondering what to plant with your new Ninebark? Visit our regional plant guides to get inspired:

 

UPDATED —
04/11/2024
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