Ninebarks are deciduous shrubs native to North America that possess many redeeming qualities that make them good candidates for our gardens and landscapes.
For starters, they are tough as nails and will grow almost anywhere in our Northwest gardens. Reaching 5 to 10 feet tall, depending on the variety, their lobed serrated foliage emerges in spring followed by clusters of white flowers in June that are favorites of our local pollinators.
After the flowers fade and the fruits starts to form, the clusters change from white to pink to a rusty red at maturity, often hanging on all winter, if the birds don’t eat them up first. In addition to colorful clusters of red fruit in the winter, the bark of this native shrub peels off in strips with each layer a slightly different color, giving it an attractive winter appearance. The fall color is also remarkable, which makes this plant a four-season-of-interest specimen.
As if all of the above attributes weren’t reason enough to incorporate a ninebark into your garden, breeders have latched on to its uncanny ability to sport different-colored foliage, which adds yet another layer of interest to our gardens.
Several years ago, the variety “Diablo” was introduced to the nursery trade, which features dark purple foliage that presents a striking contrast to the clusters of white flowers in late spring. It turns out that “Diablo” was just the beginning of a long line of new introductions that are now available to gardeners everywhere.
Here are four new ninebarks that have caught my interest:
“Little Devil”: Well, like so many new plants, there has to be a dwarf version of whatever the popular flavor happens to be, and that is exactly what “Little Devil” is. Smaller leaves, tighter growth habit and finer texture, but still all the wonderful qualities of “Diablo.” If you don’t happen to like the thorns on barberries, then try a “Little Devil” ninebark.
“Fireside”: Introduced by Bailey Nurseries in their First Editions Series of shrubs, they describe it as follows: “First Editions Fireside ninebark features showy clusters of white flowers with shell pink overtones at the ends of the branches from late spring to early summer, which emerge from distinctive pink flower buds. It has attractive burgundy foliage with hints of black which emerges coppery-bronze in spring. The serrated lobed leaves are highly ornamental and turn an outstanding deep purple in the fall. The peeling tan bark adds an interesting dimension to the landscape.” “Fireside” grows to around 5 to 6 feet tall.
“Amber Jubilee”: Another Bailey Nurseries introduction, here is their description: “Rounded and dense in habit with a bold array of colors in glowing tones of orange, yellow and gold, “Amber Jubilee” stands out in the garden border or makes an eye-catching hedge. Clusters of delicate white blooms in spring and fall add extra interest”. Also, a compact grower, “Amber Jubilee” is a real garden standout.
“Ginger Wine”: Part of the Wine Series from Proven Winners, this selection offers spring foliage in a sunny orange tone, maturing to a sparkling burgundy. Like all ninebarks, the clusters of white flowers cover the plant in June and develop into red seed heads for the fall and winter.
Ninebarks as a whole are easy to grow with perhaps mildew being the only challenge when planted in too much shade. As for pruning, if you need to reduce the size, simply cut out some of the older stems after blooming and you should be good to go. Surely there is a spot somewhere in your garden to try out one of these new introductions. Stay safe and keep on gardening.
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at email@example.com.