Little devil ninebark pruning

Ninebarks: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties

A deciduous shrub with attractive foliage, peeling bark and corymbs of white cup-shaped flowers.

About ninebarks
Ninebark grows 6 to 10 feet tall and wide, in zones 2-8. The white , cup-shaped flower heads are attractive to birds, bees and butterflies. Ninebark is drought tolerant, requires little maintenance and is suitable for xeriscaping.

Special features of ninebarks
Dart’s golden ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Dart’s golden’) – is a more compact shrub with light striking yellow spring foliage fading to a chartreuse yellow-green in summer. It has showy white flowering clusters in early summer and fantastic golden-orange fall color.

Diabolo ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Monlo’) is well known for its rich purple foliage. Its white flowers in late spring to early summer blooms make a distinctive visual contrast to the dark purple foliage (shown in photo).

Choosing a site to grow ninebarks
Ninebark grows best in acidic, well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade, but is adaptable to many soil conditions.

Planting Instructions
Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot the plant is in. Carefully remove the plant from its container and place it in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Carefully fill in around the root ball and firm the soil gently. Water thoroughly.

Ongoing Care
Water regularly until established. After it’s established, ninebark is drought-tolerant. You can propagate from hardwood cuttings. Established shrubs require annual pruning to maintain their shape. Prune early each spring by removing some of the oldest branches by cutting them off at the base. Do not ingest this plant, as all parts of the ninebark are known to be poisonous.

Caring For Physocarpus Ninebark – How To Grow A Ninebark Bush

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 2-7.

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 in height and 6 to 8 feet 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 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 and displays reddish purple foliage with whitish pink flowers in spring. ‘Little Devil’ reaches just 3 to 4 feet around and in height, with deep burgundy foliage to accent the pink blooms.

Ninebark – Pruning, Winter Care and Fertilizing

This shrub is often used in mass plantings or as a hedge. The same pruning technique can be used if they are planted as a specimen. For these plants, pruning should be done in the early spring, before they leaf out. Shear or prune the outer branch tips to shape and reduce the size of the plant. Repeat this pruning technique throughout the summer, as needed.

As the plant matures, renewal pruning will be needed. This is done in early spring, by removing the largest, heaviest canes all the way to the ground. One to five branches can be removed each year, depending on the size of the plant. If a reduction in the plants overall height is needed, it should be done in combination with renewal pruning.

If you are forming a hedge, allow light to reach all areas of the hedge by leaving the base of the plants wider than the top. This will help prevent the lower branches from dying. Dense hedges will require “pick pruning” to increase the longevity of the plant. This is done by pruning out small holes in the surface of the hedge to let light reach the interior of the plant and promote inside budding. This interior budding allows you to shear the plants for a longer time without letting the plants get too large. By fertilizing young shrubs you can increase both the size and the amount of flowers on the plant. Granular, liquid or stake type fertilizers can be used. Granular types should be worked into the soil around the plant at a rate of 2 pounds or 2 pints per 100 square feet of planting bed. An alternative way is to drill or punch 6″ deep holes at the drip line of the plant. Poured into these holes should be a total of 1/4 pound of fertilizer per foot of height or spread of the shrub (divided up and poured evenly between all of the holes). These holes should not be filled with more than 1/3 of the fertilizer and then they should be top filled with soil. This method of fertilization should only be done once a year, and is best done in late fall after leaf drop, or in early spring before bud break.

Liquid fertilizers (such as Miracle Gro) are mixed with water and applied the same as you would water the plant (see product for specific details). This should be done three or four times per year starting in late April and ending in mid July. Stake type fertilizers can be used following the directions on the package. With any of the above techniques a balanced mix should be used, 20-20-20 or 20-30-20 or 18-24-16. Organic fertilizers, like manure, can also be used with good results. The material should be worked into open soil at a rate of one bushel per one 6′ shrub or 100 sq. ft. of bed area.

These shrubs need little winter care but, should be occasionally checked for rabbit or other damage. If rabbit damage is found you can protect the plant with a fence formed with hardware cloth (looks like chicken wire but, with small square holes). The branches of the plant should be tied in towards the center, then a circle of hardware cloth can be placed around the outside. The base of the hardware cloth should be buried in the soil or mulch. This protection should be installed in late November and removed in mid April.

How to Care for Ninebark Shrub

Ninebark is a beautiful deciduous shrub, that is a great addition to most gardens. This plant is highly resilient to rough environmental conditions, which allow it to thrive in most places. In this Gardenerdy article, we will discuss the plant’s growth requirements and other care tips that will help it flourish in your garden.

Did You Know?

Many indigenous tribes of Canada and America use parts of the Pacific ninebark shrub in their traditional medicine as an emetic, purgative, laxative and also to cure scrofulous sores on the neck, and gonorrhea. However, one should be careful while trying out these cures as some parts of the plant are poisonous.

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) is a small to medium-sized shrub that is native to North America. It is a favorite in many landscape gardens due to its fascinating and colorful foliage, and beautiful, cup-shaped, white flowers. Many ninebark varieties such as Diablo, Summer Wine, Snowfall, Copertina, Little Devil, Center Glow, Tiny Wine, Am and Gold’s Dart are available in nurseries. Each of them grow with different colored foliage, i.e., various shades of purple, green, yellow, and red, and a combination of these plants can create a stunning effect.

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The shrub gets its name from its behavior of peeling its bark off in many layers. This plant is also an important part of wildlife ecosystems, where it acts as nesting sites for many birds, and provides sustenance to many insects. When grown in gardens, the ninebark is a very low-maintenance plant, making it easy for even inexperienced gardeners to grow them as hedges, garden screens, and shrub borders. Let us see what are the basic requirements that one must fulfill for this plant to thrive.

Growth Requirements

Soil:The ninebark shrub does not really mind any kind of soil, even those with widely varying pH. However, to get best results, one should plant these shrubs in acidic, well-drained soil that falls in the USDA zone 2-7. They grow well in areas with open bright sunlight, although partial shade will also do. It is important to note that these shrubs can grow approx. 5 feet tall and 12 feet wide. So, you should provide enough space for these plants, especially when placing them in a landscape setting.

Watering: These plants become drought resistant within a year or two after planting. Mild watering 2-3 times in the first 2 years, followed by one watering session every week should be sufficient. Make sure that you water only at the base of the plant as wet leaves attract fungal infections.

Fertilizers: Applying a balanced shrub fertilizer, once a year during spring time, should be enough for the plant’s nutritional needs. In addition you can also apply a top dressing of compost annually to enhance the foliage.

Planting Instructions:

  1. With a shovel or till, loosen the soil to a depth of around 15-20 inches.
  2. Now, mix a thick layer of compost into the soil.
  3. Dig a hole that is twice as wide as the pot or container of the shrub.
  4. Carefully take the shrub out of the pot, and place it in the hole in such a way that the top of the root ball is at the same level as the soil’s surface.
  5. Fill the hole up and gently give it a firm setting.
  6. Water the plant well.

Pruning Ninebark Shrubs

Pruning and trimming is probably the most important part of maintaining a ninebark shrub. Performing the following pruning tips regularly will ensure abundant and healthy growth of the plant’s foliage, and prevent mildew infection.

  • It is best to prune and trim your ninebark shrub during its dormant period, after the end of fall and before the start of spring.
  • Use pruning shears to cut long twigs that may be sticking out of the sides and top of the bush. It is best to cut around ¼-inch above the exterior buds that are facing outwards.
  • For the inner branches it is best to use lopping shears, to cut at the origin of these branches. However, do not cut more than one-third of the inner branches in the same session.
  • Once the plant has stopped blooming, you can perform some light pruning to remove any stray branches.
  • If your ninebark shrub has been unattended for a long period of time, it is possible that its growth has turned unruly, with a lot of dead branches. In such cases, cut one-third of the branches to the ground every alternate year till the new growths satisfy you. However, it is important that your plant has been well-established for 2-3 years at least before you undertake such drastic pruning. It is also a good chance to propagate the seeds or cuttings, especially if it is done during spring time.
  • It is also good to remove any dying foliage and deadwood regularly, to reduce the chances of disease.

Ninebark Shrub Diseases and Pests

Ninebark shrubs are resilient to most pests and diseases. However, with extreme weather or neglect, the plant may be attacked by leaf spots, fireblight, powdery mildew, and witch’s broom fungal infections. Each of these conditions can be treated with appropriate fungicides. You can try spraying neem oil on the affected areas. It is also recommended to get rid of any dead foliage on the plant and on the ground, and to avoid applying nitrogen fertilizers. Gardeners should also reduce the frequency of watering the plants. This will not affect the plant too much as it is a drought tolerant species. In severe cases, you may have to prune the plant to the ground. However, if none of these steps work, it is best to uproot the plant and try a different variety of ninebark shrub.

The above tips can helping the ninebark to flourish, providing your garden with great beauty for many years, without the need to work too hard.

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How to Prune Ninebark Shrubs

rusty garden shears image by hazel proudlove from

Ninebark, known botanically as Physocarpus, is a genus of flowering and fruiting perennial shrubs in the rose family of plants. Like most woody deciduous shrubs, they require no mandatory pruning for performance but do benefit from the removal of damage and dead wood. They can also be pruned to maintain their proper footprint in the surrounding landscape design should they become overgrown.

Prune your ninebark shrubs in the early spring while the shrub is still dormant and before new growth and buds have emerged.

Cut back any dead or diseased branches or any plant tissues that look compromised or suspect. Cut back to a point of healthy plant tissue and pull the questionable cuttings from the shrub and discard them. If an entire branch is compromised, cut it off at the crown of the plant just above the soil line.

Reduce the size and spread of the shrub by cutting off the terminal branch tips to the desired length. Never reduce the shrub by more than one-third of its size in any single pruning session, in order to prevent shock. Place all cuts on the bias just a 1/4 inch above a leaf node or bud. Work evenly around the shrub following the natural form to ensure an attractive and natural-looking result.

Rejuvenate a hollowed out shrub or defoliated stems by conducting renewal pruning every few years or as needed. Remove one-third of the oldest and barest branches down to the crown of the plant just above the soil level. This will spur new shoots to fill out the interior and lower perimeter of the plant.

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Ninebark is not only an extremely versatile plant; the species is also experiencing many new innovations. Traditionally a green shrub with flowers and exfoliating bark, recent releases have brought ninebark new foliage colors. Their fast growing habit and appealing winter bark make these shrubs garden favorites.

genus name
  • Physocarpus
  • Sun
plant type
  • Shrub
  • 3 to 8 feet
  • 3 to 12 feet wide
flower color
  • White,
  • Pink
foliage color
  • Blue/Green,
  • Purple/Burgundy,
  • Chartreuse/Gold
season features
  • Summer Bloom,
  • Colorful Fall Foliage,
  • Winter Interest
problem solvers
  • Deer Resistant,
  • Drought Tolerant,
  • Good For Privacy
special features
  • Low Maintenance,
  • Attracts Birds,
  • Good for Containers
  • 3,
  • 4,
  • 5,
  • 6,
  • 7
  • Layering,
  • Seed,
  • Stem Cuttings

Colorful Improvements

New ninebark foliage colors seem to keep coming. Traditional foliage color is a deep purple, but additions now include gold and amber foliage. Some varieties even fade from one color to another as they age.

Use ninebark to create a fall garden retreat!

Both size and overall form have improved in new ninebark varieties. New innovations have focused on shrinking the size to better adapt to a home garden setting. In smaller varieties, habits have also changed to be more upright instead of spilling branches.

Ninebark flowers are almost an afterthought. While they look nice, especially on varieties with dark foliage, the white and pink blooms don’t last long. In the winter, the bark is what really shines through. As the bark of the older stems age, they peel back in layers, creating an exfoliation effect.

Ninebark Care Must-Knows

In just one year of growth, many ninebark varieties can reach their mature size. The rapid growth of these plants can be gratifying but also a deterrent for some people, since they may get a little too big in size. Luckily, ninebarks are amenable to pruning. Either prune after they bloom, or prune in late winter before growth starts if you don’t mind sacrificing their blooms.

The biggest problem that ninebarks encounter is powdery mildew. Luckily, this won’t do any long-term harm. Thinning out older stems can increase air circulation and prevent mildew.

See more flowering shrubs that grow well in the Northeast.

More Varieties of Ninebark

‘Summer Wine’ Ninebark

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Physocarpus ‘Summer Wine’ is a compact purple-leaf selection that grows 5-6 feet tall and wide. Zones 3-7

‘Dart’s Gold’ Ninebark

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Physocarpus ‘Dart’s Gold’ offers bright golden-yellow foliage and white flowers in early summer. It grows 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Zones 3-7.

Little Devil Ninebark

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Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Donna May’ is an outstanding dwarf selection that displays rich burgundy-purple leaves with white flowers in early summer. It grows 4 feet tall and wide. Zones 3-7

‘Coppertina’ Ninebark

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Physocarpus ‘Coppertina’ shows off coppery-purple new growth that matures to purple red. It grows 8 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Zones 3-7

‘Center Glow’ Ninebark

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Physocarpus ‘Center Glow’ bears purple foliage that has a golden-yellow center when it’s young. It grows 8 feet tall and wide. Zones 3-7

‘Diablo’ Ninebark

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Physocarpus ‘Diabolo’ features rich burgundy-purple foliage and white flowers. It grows 10 feet tall and wide. Zones 3-7

Physocarpus: Ninebark

Facts: Physocarpus

Family: Rosaceae, the Rose family

Genus: Physocarpus (f-eye-zoe-CAR-puss) In Greek, physa means ‘bladder’ and karpon means fruit, referring to bladder-like fruit.

Common Name: Ninebark

Origin: Most species are native to North America. Just one, Physocarpus amurensis is native to Korea and Manchuria.

Characteristics: Clusters of reddish pink flower buds open to white or pale pink flowers in spring. Leaves are alternate, simple, 3-5 lobed, and can be green, purple, red or yellow.

Leaves turn yellow, orange or red before falling in autumn to reveal bark peeling in long sinuous pieces. Fall berries are small, seedy and hairy – great for birds and not bad to look at. Grows upright in a broad fan or fountain shape.

Size: Most are large shrubs, growing 6-10′ tall and wide. A few varieties are smaller-growing, to 3-5′.

Culture: Physocarpus is very adaptable. Wet soil, dry soil, nutrient rich soil, poor soil, full sun, part shade, Physocarpus is not picky. Some of the purple-leaf types can turn a bit green in summer heat, and gold-leaf types appreciate some afternoon shade or additional water to keep from burning. All Physocarpus are cold tolerant to -30f or colder.

Problems: Being a member of the rose family, Physocarpus is prone to some of the same problems. Powdery mildew is the main issue. Interior leaves are first spotted with fuzzy white dots, then often coated with white.

Plants with good air circulation that aren’t watered heavily in summer are less likely to have issues. Watering the ground beneath the plant rather than the leaves can also help.

Early detection is a good control – just pick off the effected leaves when you see it.

If that doesn’t work, fungicides can help. Serenade is a natural fungicide that used bacteria to fight disease, and is a good preventative.

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.

Author: Rhonda Ferree

Rhonda Ferree is Extension Educator in Horticulture for the Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Extension Unit. She has been with University of Illinois Extension for over 20 years where she has held several positions and received many awards. Ferree has a master’s degree and a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from the University of Illinois. View all posts by Rhonda Ferree

Sarah Nixon explains her design style to garden bloggers.

During the recent Garden Bloggers Fling, I had an opportunity to watch Sarah Nixon of My Luscious Backyard demonstrate how to make a bouquet using the flowers and foliage from typical gardens. Sarah runs a service in Toronto where she provides bouquets to homes and businesses every week during the growing season — sort of like a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm for flower lovers.

One of the plants she used in the beautiful bouquet she did with early June blooms was a ninebark. She used both a bright gold-chartreuse variety and a deep maroon one. Together, they added depth and pizzazz to the arrangement.

Ninebark (Physocarpus) is a flowering shrub that should be in almost every northern garden. A native to Minnesota and hardy as far north as USDA Zone 2, common ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) grows up to 10 feet tall with green to greenish yellow leaves. You can hardly kill a common ninebark: It can handle sun or part shade, sand or clay, dry soils or wet ones, drought or flood, compacted soils or loose ones.

Little Devil ninebark in bloom

It’s only problem was that as a landscape plant, the common ninebark was a bit ho-hum. In the 1990s, hybridizers started to work with ninebark and since then have created several stunning varieties that can add dark contrast or brighten a corner.

A few favorite varieties include Diabolo®, a tall, maroon-foliaged shrub with attractive spring flowers. While popular, Diabolo is a bit large for smaller garden spaces. This led local hybridizer David Zlesak to create Little Devil®, which has the same deep color and pretty flowers of Diabolo but smaller. Little Devil tops out at about 3 feet in height compared to almost 10 for Diabolo. It has smaller leaves, smaller blooms and is just plain cute. I love that David is a local hybridizer, so we know that Little Devil is hardy in the North. (This is the plant Sarah Nixon used in the bouquet she made for the garden bloggers.)

Other dark ninebarks include ‘Summer Wine’ and ‘Lady in Red’. Another dark option is Center Glow® ninebark, which has bright yellow to orange foliage when it first emerges before deepening to a burgundy, almost brown shade.

Little Devil has impact in the landscape.

In addition to the red to burgundy ninebarks, breeders have also developed several plants with unusual colors. Dart’s Gold is a 5-foot tall yellow to lime colored plant with sweet white flowers in early summer. (Most ninebarks are blooming about now.) ‘Nugget’ ninebark is a real beacon in the landscape with bright yellow to lime foliage and white flowers. First Editions® Amber Jubilee® starts each season with foliage that is orange, yellow and red all at the same time before mellowing to green.

Do you have a ninebark in your yard?

—Mary Lahr Schier

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