Plant Profile: Ninebark

Sarah Nixon explains her design style to garden bloggers.

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

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.

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



  1. Pat Webster on June 18, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    I have several ninebark and enjoy ‘Diabolo,’ ‘Nugget’ and ‘Dart’s Gold.’ While the deer avoid the species and are not partial to the chartreuse foliage, they adore Diabolo. After a few years trying to keep the deer away, I fenced the shrubs in, the deer out and finally the shrubs are thriving.

    • Wendy Sjoblom on September 20, 2021 at 7:55 pm

      When is the best time to prune ninebarks in Minnesota? Early spring or after they bloom?

      • Mary Lahr Schier on September 21, 2021 at 4:19 pm

        I would wait until they bloom, but after that, prune whenever you’d like. Ninebarks are very tough and will grow back.

  2. Prairie Garden Farm on June 18, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    Another good one is ‘Coppertina’. We grow it along with ‘Diabolo’ as part of our cut flower farm.

  3. Kathy Shrout on August 12, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    I do and mine are dying and I cannot find anything online to help me! I live in Missouri and have had no problem until this year, summer 2018. They get watered regularly along with my annuals.i have others not getting watered much and they are dying also? Is there possibly a disease getting to them?

  4. Ann on August 20, 2019 at 8:54 am

    Do the cultivars. Provide nectar and pollen for bees?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on August 20, 2019 at 3:27 pm

      I do see bees on the blooms, so some do provide nectar.

  5. […] Here are two of my favorites. One was called Cherry Garcia, and combined the dark foliage of Diabolo ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’) with a pretty pink-flowered clematis (Clematis […]

  6. StephanieJF on March 31, 2021 at 11:17 am

    Hi there! Somebody told me about the Ninebark can grow up 3-10 feet tall. Is this true? I’m planning to plan this ninebark in my little space in my backyard, but it gives me hesitation upon knowing that it can grow up to 3-10 feet tall.

  7. Amanda Shrub on August 13, 2021 at 2:24 am

    I love Ninebark! I’m so glad you posted this article.
    I’ve been looking for a Shrub that does well in northern climates and can handle some sun. The common ninebark has made me really excited!”
    Thanks again for posting about it. I’ll be sure to share with my friends who are also gardeners.

  8. WV on September 9, 2021 at 8:09 am

    As an avid gardener, I found your article on Ninebark to be invaluable. I can’t wait to try out some of the tips!
    It was really helpful reading about how this plant is both easy and hardy as well as all the different types of environments it will flourish in.
    I’ll have to check some of those places out for myself. In addition, I loved learning about some interesting facts about Ninebarks that I didn’t know before! Thank you so much for sharing that with us gardeners everywhere!

  9. Penny anderson on September 26, 2022 at 4:50 pm

    We have a diablo ninebark in our garden. I few years back, some of the leaves were half dark maroon and half bright green. This year we have had a few ninebarks sprout from seed. Two are the same color as diablo, but one is bright green. Is this a reversion to the mother plant?

    • MSHS on September 27, 2022 at 1:21 am

      Yep, sounds like it’s reverting. Just FYI, one of our staffers pointed out that the Diablo variety is trademarked making it illegal to propagate.

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