Hardy, versatile, and low-maintenance, nine-bark shrubs provide the landscape with multiple benefits and year-round character. These graceful, arcing plants are native to North America, where most species are found, and the far northeast of Asia. Between the several individual species and a whole wealth of cultivated varieties, they provide various sizes, colors, and applications for gardeners.
Ninebarks earn their name from the peeling bark worn by older specimens; this exfoliation, which exposes a more decadent reddish or brown inner bark beneath, makes for a beautiful wintertime look when the shrub's leafless—indeed, that's the best time to appreciate the stripping-off stems. The ninebark's typical spreading, drooping, or somewhat rounded form also provides fine structure to the winter garden.
Ninebark foliage comes in a wide range of colors given the cultivars on the market, from green and golden to burgundy and purple. Several widely planted ninebark shrubs put on a significantly shifting color show in the foliage department, whether it's a sustained blend of new and old growth across the growing season or—as with the mountain ninebark, for example—vibrant fall color. The simple, alternate leaves are handsome, with three to five lobes that may be blunt or sharp-tipped.
The single most attractive feature of the ninebark shrub is its flowering. Ninebark blooms, which kick off in spring or early summer, manifest as dense clusters (corymbs, technically speaking) of small white or pink flowers that give the shrub a nicely festooned look and draw butterflies and other pollinators. Those blooms, meanwhile, transition to persistent seedheads that feed songbirds in late summer into fall.
Ninebarks adapt well to a variety of settings and soils in the garden-scape. They do best in the sun to partial shade, reflecting a preference in the wild for growing along streamsides and in open forests and woodlands. They can handle quite the range of moist to dry microclimates, boast significant cold-hardiness (they're good choices for zones 2 to 7), and tend to grow well in both acidic and alkaline soil.
Easy to transplant and take cuttings from, nine-bark shrubs also demand little hands-on maintenance once established. That said, occasional pruning will help maintain a fuller, less scraggly look.
Ninebark Shrubs: Plenty of Variety
Among the commonly cultivated ninebark species are eastern or common ninebark, native to a broad swath of central and eastern North America; the mountain ninebark of western uplands and highlands; and the Pacific ninebark of the Northwest. You've got a range of cultivars to consider, not least for the eastern ninebark, which comes in such varieties as the reddish-purple 'Diablo,' 'Luteus' with its yellow sun leaves and greenish shade leaves, and the dwarf 'Nanus.'
Uses of Ninebark Shrubs in Landscaping
Ninebarks can play any number of roles in the garden. With natural species growing in the vicinity of five to 12 feet tall and commonly forming dense thickets, ninebark shrubs serve well as border, hedge, screen, and accent plantings. Dwarf varieties like the 'Nanus' do well in pots and smaller plots. The ninebark shrub ups your yard's wildlife/ecological value, contributing to pollinator gardens and providing fruit and excellent bird cover.