Common ninebark is a large native shrub with modest ornamental interest. But the introduction of purple-leafed cultivars, starting with Diabolo, has made this a must-have shrub for colorful landscapes. Purple-leafed ninebarks are multi-stemmed shrubs with upright, spreading branches. The coarsely lobed leaves are burgundy colored and often develop brighter red tones in the fall. In spring, many clusters of small pinkish white flowers line the branches, followed by small seed pods. Older stems develop characteristic peeling layers of bark, which gives the common name “ninebark.” Purple-leafed ninebarks add dramatic color to shrub borders, foundation plantings, and mixed planting beds.
Common name: Purple-leafed ninebark
Botanical name: Physocarpus opulifolius (purple-leafed cultivars)
Plant type: deciduous shrub
Zones: 3 to 9
Height: 6 to10 feet
• Sun: Full sun or partial shade
• Soil: Adaptable to most soil types and pH levels
• Moisture: Average; moderately drought tolerant
• Mulch: 2 to 3 inches of pine needles, wood chips, or other organic mulch
• Pruning: Occasional pruning to remove damaged stems and shape plant
• Fertilizer: Topdress annually with compost
Pests and diseases
• Few pest or disease problems
• Burgundy Star (‘Tres’) is a new selection that has deep burgundy foliage and a compact (4 to 6 feet tall) form.
• Diabolo (‘Monlo’) was the first purple-leafed ninebark on the market and is still popular. Grows 8 or more feet tall.
• Summer Wine (‘Seward’) has rich burgundy foliage. Its smaller leaf size gives it a finer texture.
• Little Devil (‘Donna May’) is a very compact (3 to 4 feet tall) purple-leafed ninebark.
• The dark foliage of purple-leafed ninebarks makes a dramatic backdrop for smaller shrubs, roses, and perennials that have white or pink flowers.
• If you like bold colors, combine purple-leafed ninebarks with hot-colored flowers and foliage like orange or bright yellow lilies, sunflowers, and striped-leaf cannas.
All in the family
• Ninebark is a member of the rose family (Rosaceae), a large family of woody and herbaceous plants.
• Other ornamental shrubs in the rose family include cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp.), potentilla (Potentilla spp.), and spirea (Spiraea spp.)
• Many fruit trees are members of this family, including cherries, apples, peaches, and plums.
Where to buy
• Rare Find Nursery, Jackson NJ; 732-833-0613; www.rarefindnursery.com
• Lazy S’s Farm Nursery, Barboursville, VA; 304-497-2208; www.lazyssfarm.com/storefront.htm
• Avant Gardens, Dartmouth MA; 508-998-8819; www.avantgardensne.com