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Ninebark adds color, attracts pollinators

I have several species of ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) in my landscape, including the native. I also have Diabolo and Ginger Wine varieties, which are my favorites. They both have wonderful purple / red foliage and add even more pizzazz when they become loaded with light pink / white flowers late spring, early summer. These flowers really stand out against the bright foliage making them pop in your landscape.

After this shrub flowers, it gives you decorative red seed heads. They also have winter interest as the bark exfoliates as it ages peeling in thin paperlike layers to reveal the red and brown inner bark. The common name originates from this exfoliating bark.

Ninebark grows best in full sun but will tolerate some shade, with your best leaf coloring in sunny locations. It has an upright growing habit with some suckering occurring. It’s hardy in Zones 3 to 7.

Diabolo and Ginger Wine will grow 5 to 6 feet tall and wide, with the common native ninebark growing up to 10 feet tall and wide. It likes fertile moist well-drained soil, with little pruning. Your shrub will look best when allowed to retain its natural size and shape.

Cut out dead, damaged and crossed limbs in early spring, as ninebarks bloom on old wood. This shrub can be pruned back to the ground every few years to rejuvenate it, but this is not necessary.

Ninebark may have occasional problems with fire blight, leaf spot and powdery mildew and should be fertilized in the spring. Some have a real problem with powdery mildew, mainly because the plant has too much shade and the leaves are allowed to stay wet too long during the day. Ninebark shrubs are said to be somewhat deer resistant.

Breeders have given us varieties with colors ranging from bright gold, deep purple, burgundy, orange, to nearly black. These new cultivars are also smaller in size which makes them better suited to smaller landscapes — and save us from having to prune. These options allow each gardener to choose a color and size to fit a specific garden.

The flowers are attractive to butterflies, bees and other insect pollinators, making it a great choice when planting gardens with pollinators in mind. It’s also an excellent choice when combined with other natives to benefit wildlife and pollinators.

Other uses of the ninebark could include planting along a property line to give you privacy or using it as a hedge to divide your landscape into garden rooms. The excellent foliage colors also make it a great choice for using as a backdrop behind your flowers. It also can be planted as a single specimen in a small garden or even planted in a container to display on your patio or deck. The cut branches may also be used in your floral arrangements giving it an added punch of color.

Give this colorful native shrub a home in your landscape and it will enhance your gardens. Consider planting one this fall season. To learn more about the great options for this shrub, go to http://go.osu.edu/ninebark.

Baytos is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.

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