The way to Plant, Develop, and Take care of Ninebark Shrubs

Native plant landscaping is ecologically beneficial, pollinator-friendly, water-wise, and ideal for lazy gardeners who don’t want to spend all summer in their yard. However, some native plants don’t have the gorgeous ornamental appeal of domesticated cultivars. With its arching branches of maple-like leaves and dense white or pink floral clusters, ninebark is an exception! Ninebark shrubs are as beautiful as they are resilient.

Whether you have poor, compacted soil, a wet rain garden area, or an eroding slope needing stabilization, ninebark shrubs are up for the job! These attractive native plants make gorgeous hedges, privacy screens, or standalone specimens. They’re hardy from frigid zone 2 to mild zone 8 and provide valuable nectar for many pollinators, particularly native bees and the colorful ninebark beetle.

Once established, the plants only need a once-annual pruning to keep them looking tidy. Let’s dig into everything you need to know about growing this widely adaptable and resilient native species.

Ninebark Shrubs Overview

Plant Type

Native deciduous shrub

Plant Family

Rosaceae (rose family)

Plant Species


Planting Season

Spring or fall


-50°F (dormancy) to 80°F (struggles in hot, humid climates)

Companion Plants

Spirea, dogwood

Soil Type

Poor, clay, sand, loam, slopes

Sun Exposure

Full sun to partial shade


Long-lived perennial (30-50+ years)


Aphids, spider mites, scale


Fire blight, powdery mildew

History and Cultivation 

Close-up of a flowering bush Physocarpus opulifolius in a sunny garden. This is a deciduous shrub which is characterized by its attractive, maple-like leaves of deep purple color. Ninebark produces clusters of small, white flowers.Ninebark is a fast-growing deciduous shrub that thrives in many landscaping applications like rain gardens and slopes.

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) is a large deciduous flowering shrub native to central and eastern North America. This rapidly growing plant has become increasingly popular in ornamental landscapes, particularly native rain gardens or sloped areas with poor, compacted, and eroding soil.

In its native range, ninebark grows wild on rocky lakeshores, wetlands, riverbanks, and hillsides. The related Pacific ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus) is native to the western U.S. and offers similar adaptability, resilience, and ornamental value.

What is Ninebark?

Close-up of a flowering bush Physocarpus opulifolius in the garden against a blurred background of a green lawn. Physocarpus opulifolius, commonly known as ninebark, is a deciduous shrub with a multi-stemmed, arching habit. The leaves are three-lobed, with serrated edges, and deep burgundy in color. The bush produces clusters of small, white, star-shaped flowers with rounded petals.Physocarpus opulifolius, also called Eastern ninebark, is a cold-hardy shrub with peeling bark and blooming white flowers.

Also known as Eastern ninebark, Atlantic ninebark, or simply ninebark shrub, Physocarpus opulifolius is a large flowering, cold-hardy shrub in the rose family. It grows in USDA zones 2-8 and tolerates a wide range of conditions.

The bark peels in colorful papery layers, providing intriguing winter interest and an explanation for the “ninebark” name. In the summer, the shrub blooms with attractive cascading stems of clustered white flowers resembling spirea. These blooms provide important nectar resources to pollinators, including native bees, butterflies, wasps, and beetles.

Why Should You Plant Ninebark?

Close-up of a flowering bush Physocarpus opulifolius in a sunny garden. The bush is large: lush, has spreading branches densely covered with bright green, deeply lobed leaves with jagged edges. The plant has large round inflorescences of many small white flowers with lime-pink centers.Ninebark, a low-maintenance native plant, enhances gardens, supports pollinators, and thrives in challenging conditions.

Ninebark is a native plant that offers many benefits to almost any garden or landscape yet requires very little maintenance. If you want to support native species and reduce your garden labor, this shrub is for you! 

In addition to its striking beauty, the large shrub is extremely important to pollinators. Native bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies rely on ninebark flowers for nectar in the spring or summer.

The plant perfectly fills large open spaces with poor soil or nearby allelopathic plants like black walnut. The resilient ninebark can handle drought, clay, compaction, steep slopes, wet rain gardens, and juglone (the chemical produced by black walnut trees). 

Why is it Called Ninebark? 

Close-up of berries on a Physocarpus opulifolius bush in the garden against a blurred background. Physocarpus opulifolius, or ninebark, bears small, reddish-brown berries. These berries, arranged in drooping clusters, are small and bladder-shaped.Ninebark, named for its peeling habit, features nine layers of bark.

Ninebark got its name for its layers of exfoliating bark in shades of light brown, burgundy, and red. However, the story behind the name is less cut and dried. For all variants, the name directly links to the plant’s habit of having multiple bark layers that peel in long strips, but the rationale is different with each one.

The USDA’s NRCS National Plant Data Center indicates that as the bark peels and exposes a new layer, it’s as if the bark had “nine lives.” Other sources suggest there are nine layers of bark, although peeling trees typically regenerate bark layers as the outer ones peel. A few sources indicate that as the bark peels, it forms the shape of a 9, revealing its common name. While we know that its name comes from the bark, the jury is out on the significance of the number 9 to this tree!

The scientific name Physocarpus opulifolius comes from the Greek word physa, meaning “bladder,” and karpos, meaning “fruit.” The drooping clusters of reddish-brown fruit appear autumn and look like small bladder-shaped seed capsules. The fruits look intriguing against the golden-yellow fall foliage and provide food for native birds preparing for winter.


Like most native plants, ninebark is remarkably easy to propagate by cuttings, layering, volunteer seedlings, or root divisions. The plant naturally spreads via underground runners and self-sows a few volunteer seedlings yearly. 

Fortunately, despite its easygoing propagation, the shrub is not an aggressive spreader and will not become invasive in your garden. Use these methods to replicate ninebark for wider hedges, denser hillside stabilization, or more ornamental flowers in your landscape.

Stem Cuttings

Close-up of female hands holding Ninebark cuttings with sprouted roots ready for planting in a pot or ground. The cuttings consist of thin, upright pale green stems with several maple-like green leaves with serrated edges.Take ninebark cuttings in mid to late summer, identifying nodes for optimal propagation and root development.

The best time to take cuttings from the shrub is mid to late summer after the plant is done flowering. You will need to know how to identify a node, which is the location where buds and leaves emerge from a stem.

Nodes are the key propagation point because they are hubs for undifferentiated cells called meristematic tissue. These cells can become any type of plant tissue, but once submerged in water or soil, the node will be signaled to grow into roots.

The cutting process is very similar to other perennials:

  1. Use sharp, sanitized pruners or shears.
  2. Find a 4-6 inch section of healthy stem, preferably new growth without any flowers.
  3. Cut just below a leaf node.
  4. Remove the lower leaves to expose the node.
  5. Optionally, dip the cut end in a rooting hormone.
  6. Plant the cutting in a well-drained blend such as peat moss, sand, and vermiculite.
  7. Keep the cutting consistently moist.
  8. Repeat the process for as many cuttings as you’d like.
  9. Place the plants in a sheltered area with indirect sunlight.

Ninebark cuttings typically take 4 to 6 weeks to root. Gently tug on the cutting and feel for a slight resistance to indicate it has formed roots. At this point, you can transplant into the landscape in late fall.

Alternatively, up-pot to a 5-gallon pot. Allow the seedling to mature for another season, then plant in early spring while the young bush is dormant.


View of Physocarpus opulifolius, commonly known as ninebark, in a garden with mulched soil. It is a deciduous bush which features a multi-stemmed and arching structure. The stems grow in a cascade, overlapping one another, hanging to the ground. The leaves are reminiscent of maple leaves, three-lobed and varying in color from deep burgundy to deep purple.Expand your shrub by layering—bend a branch to the ground, let it root, then separate.

Layering is a propagation method where you bend a low branch to the ground level and bury a section in soil. When the branch forms roots, you can cut it from the mother plant, allowing it to proliferate independently. This expands the footprint of an existing shrub. For example, you may want to laterally layer your ninebark to create a wider privacy hedge. 

The best time to layer is in the very early spring when the plant is still dormant.

To layer the shrub:

  1. Find a flexible, low-hanging branch.
  2. Make a small cut or scrape off a section of the bark around the middle of the stem.
  3. Bury the wounded section in soil, but leave the tip of the branch exposed above ground.
  4. Keep the soil consistently moist, just like when rooting a cutting.
  5. Wait for the buried section to develop roots.
  6. Use clean, sanitized shears to the rooted section away from the original shrub.

Volunteer Seedlings

Close-up of young ninebark shoots under a larger bush in a garden with mulched soil. The large ninebark bush has upright purple stems covered with three-lobed, toothed burgundy-purple leaves. The young ninebark bush has the same leaves but is green.Harvest and transplant ninebark seedlings, ensuring 3 to 6 feet spacing, with initial watering for establishment.

Ninebark shrubs produce abundant seeds every season, some falling into the soil and germinating into volunteer seedlings. You can dig up these little root balls and transplant them to a desired location, ensuring they have at least 3 to 6 feet of space from neighboring plants.

Provide plenty of water during the first season. Then, the baby ninebarks can typically fend for themselves.

Root Divisions

Root Divisions. Close-up of a dug-out ninebark bush in the garden. There is a large black shovel nearby. The bush has green lobed foliage and large clumpy root balls containing soil.Divide ninebark in fall or winter by lifting, cutting, and transplanting root chunks for expansion.

You can divide in the fall or winter. This sturdy shrub produces a hefty basal clump of stems and roots that you can dig up and cut into sections. Use a strong shovel to lift the plant in early spring. Cut the root ball into smaller divisions with a sharp, sanitized saw or loppers, ensuring each chunk has plenty of healthy roots and shoots. 

Transplant the root chunks to the new desired location and watch your ninebark collection expand. Provide plenty of water while divisions get established. While some gardeners warn against diving shrubs like ninebark, it is unlikely to cause any major issues.


The best time to plant or move this deciduous native shrub is in the early spring (before it breaks dormancy) or in the fall after flowering. Although ninebarks are incredibly drought-resilient and tolerant of rugged conditions, they still enjoy consistent watering during their establishment phase.

How to Transplant

Transplanting the bush of physocarpus opulifolius in the garden. Top view of a gardener's hands in white gloves holding a black pot with a ninebark seedling over a dug hole in the soil. The seedling produces several upright purple stems with beautiful deep purple foliage. The leaves have three deep lobes and serrated edges.Transplant ninebark to a sunny to partially shaded location with well-drained soil.

Select a new location in full sun to partial shade to transplant a store-bought or home-propagated ninebark into. The soil is not super important, but young plants take off more easily in a moderately moist, well-drained setting. 

Planting is very straightforward:

  1. Dig a hole about twice as wide and deep as the root ball.
  2. Grasp the potted plant from its base.
  3. Massage the roots to gently remove it from the container.
  4. Place it in the hole, spreading the roots downward and out.
  5. Make sure it stands at the same depth it was originally.
  6. Backfill with soil.
  7. Water generously and maintain consistent moisture for the first season.


View of rows of little seedlings ninebark with golden leaves in a sunny garden. The seedlings are small, have vertical short stems densely covered with golden-green serrated leaves.Give ninebark shrubs 4 to 6 feet of space for optimal growth, preventing overcrowding.

Ninebark shrubs can grow surprisingly fast and large, up to 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Providing at least 4 to 6 feet of space between plants you’d like to reach their full glory is important. Closer spacing may be desired for a denser privacy hedge, but the plants mustn’t get overcrowded, especially in humid environments.

How to Grow

Native plant lovers are often proud to be “lazy gardeners” because their gardens require far less effort than many traditional ornamental plants. Ninebark lives up to the easygoing reputation of indigenous species. As long as the plant has ample sunshine and water during establishment, it will mostly care for itself.


Close-up shot of a flowering Physocarpus opulifolius bush in full sun against a blurred garden background. Physocarpus opulifolius, commonly known as ninebark, bears clusters of small, delicate flowers and distinctive leaves. The flowers are small, white, arranged in rounded clusters at the tips of branches. The leaves of the ninebark are oval-shaped with serrated edge, showing a vibrant purple hue.Ninebarks thrive in full sun to partial shade, with its optimal floral display in full sun conditions.

Ninebarks enjoy full sun to partial shade, but the floral display is best in full sun. Because the plant doesn’t enjoy hot, humid weather, it appreciates afternoon shade in southern climates. Thanks to its tolerance for juglone, it can even be planted in the partial shade of a black walnut grove where other plants may not grow.

In the far northern stretches of its range where summers are cool, the plant really needs full sunlight with at least 6 hours of direct light per day. The shrubs have disappointing flower displays when they don’t get enough light.


Close-up of a flowering bush Physocarpus opulifolius covered with drops of water. The bush produces a round inflorescence of many small white flowers. The leaves are purple, three-lobed, with serrated edges.Ninebark’s adaptability spans wet to dry environments.

This plant is unique because it can grow in both dry and wet locations and thrives without irrigation in its wild habitat across the entire eastern United States. From streambanks to exposed hillsides, its native range reveals why it is just as suitable for a rain garden as it is for a xeriscape. 

Ninebark generally has low water requirements once established. It can handle prolonged drought in clay, dry sand, or rocky soils. It can even deal with poor drainage and occasional flooding.

The most important thing to remember is that young plants still need water to help them anchor their roots. This is especially important in warmer climates where summer rains are sparse. After the first season, the shrub is usually fine to fend for itself.


Close-up of a gardener's hands checking the condition of the soil in the garden. He is wearing high rubber boots. The soil is loose, brown, with small lumps.Highly versatile, ninebark thrives in various soils, from clay to rocky border areas.

Few landscape plants are as versatile as ninebark! You can plant this native shrub in heavy clay, loamy beds, sandy soil, or even rocky border areas of your landscape.

It tolerates poor soil but does best in neutral to slightly acidic soil with some drainage. Mulch helps boost organic matter, retaining moisture and suppressing weeds.

Climate and Temperature

Close-up of blooming Inflorescences of white flowers on Ninebark in a sunny garden. The inflorescences are round in shape, consisting of many densely growing white flowers with five rounded petals surrounding green-yellow centers. The stems are long, spreading, covered with three-lobed leaves with jagged edges, ranging from green to purple.Ninebark withstands cold winters but prefers milder summers, avoiding extreme heat and humidity.

Ninebark is resilient and adaptable throughout USDA zones 2 through 8. In its dormant state, it can handle shockingly cold negative temperatures.

In the summer, it prefers milder weather, around 70 or 80°F. Warmer climates may get away with growing ninebark if it has dappled shade, but hotter, humid environments make the plant more vulnerable to powdery mildew and other diseases.


Close-up of a blooming Physocarpus opulifolius against a blurred background. Physocarpus opulifolius, commonly known as ninebark, features clusters of small, dainty flowers. These blossoms are arranged in rounded clusters at the tips of the branches. The flowers exhibit a delicate beauty, with colors ranging from creamy white to soft pink.Ninebark requires minimal fertilizer in organic-rich soil.

Ninebark doesn’t need much fertilizer if your soil has a fair amount of organic matter or compost. If you want fertilizer for a bigger flower display, use a balanced fertilizer and avoid anything too high in nitrogen. Excessive nitrogen can cause an overgrowth of foliage at the expense of flowers. 

It is also important to avoid fertilizing during the plant’s dormant stage in late fall or winter because this can stimulate fragile new growth at the wrong time of year.

Pruning and Maintenance

Close-up of a gardener's hands with red pruning shears about to prune a Physocarpus opulifolius bush in the garden. The gardener is wearing a white short top with ruffles. The bush is large, lush, has vertical purple stems densely covered with large lobed green-purple leaves with jagged edges.Prune ninebark for aesthetics or shaping and again lightly after flowering, avoiding late summer pruning.

The only maintenance this plant needs is for aesthetics. Some landscapers prune ninebark after it finishes flowering, but this should only be a light haircut. Be aware that pruning during the growing season may reduce the amount of red capsule fruits the plant produces in summer and fall.

Major shaping into a hedge or mound should happen in late spring. You can use bypass pruners or power shears to shape it into a desirable appearance. 

It’s very important to avoid pruning after mid-August, as this can stimulate new growth that will perish in cold weather. If the plant becomes large, leggy, or out of control, you can cut it back close to the ground in late winter. This will trigger it to rejuvenate and grow back in a bushier, more lush form.


In addition to the wild ninebark Physocarpus opulifolius, several cultivars of ornamental ninebarks are bred for unique foliage, color, size, and growth habits. 

Popular varieties include:

Diabolo Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’)

Close-up of a flowering Diabolo Ninebark bush in a sunny garden. It boasts deeply cut, serrated leaves that are a rich, deep purple to burgundy color. The foliage is complemented by clusters of small, pinkish-white flowers.Deep purple leaves provide a striking backdrop to bright white spring flowers.

For a dramatic color addition to your landscape, this variety has deep purple to dark burgundy leaves that create a striking backdrop for the bright white flower clusters that appear in late spring. 

Summer Wine Ninebark (P. opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’)

Close-up shot of the spreading stems of the Summer Wine Ninebark bush with blooming inflorescences in the garden, against a blurred background of a wooden gray fence. This cultivar is prized for its deep wine-colored foliage, which adds a bold and rich contrast to garden landscapes. The leaves are finely textured and deeply lobed. The plant produces clusters of small, delicate pinkish-white flowers.This burgundy-leaved shrub yields pastel pink and white flowers.

Another dark foliage variety, this burgundy-leaved shrub produces delicate pastel pink and white flowers. It is smaller than standard types but not quite a dwarf, averaging 5 to 6 feet in height.

Coppertina Ninebark (P. opulifolius ‘Coppertina’)

Close-up of a small fly on a leaf of a Coppertina Ninebark bush with a blurred background. The leaves have a vibrant coppery-orange hue. The leaves are deeply lobed and serrated.‘Coppertina’ ninebark features vibrant coppery-red leaves, adding rich color and dimension to garden landscapes.

This cultivar has uniquely coppery-orange colored foliage in vibrant hues throughout the summer. In the fall, the leaves mature to dark purple. It grows 6 to 8 feet tall.

Nugget Ninebark (P. opulifolius ‘Nugget’)

Close-up of a large, lush flowering Nugget Ninebark bush in a sunny garden. The Nugget Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius 'Nugget') is a compact deciduous shrub with vibrant golden-yellow leaves. The leaves are small, oval-shaped, and finely textured. The bush produces small clusters of white flowers.‘Nugget’ ninebark is a compact shrub with golden-yellow foliage, providing a bright and cheerful garden presence.

If you need a smaller shrub, this dwarf variety has all the resilience of a common ninebark in a more manageable package. It grows to just 2 or 3 feet tall, perfect for patio containers or small yards. The foliage is a pretty bright yellow-green shade, and the flowers are classic white with pink.

Design Ideas

This native shrub looks lovely alongside other flowering perennials that can withstand similar soil and moisture conditions.


Close-up of a flowering Spirea bush against a blurred background. The plant features dense clusters of small, five-petaled white flowers. The foliage is finely textured, with small, oval, serrated green leaves.Spirea pairs well with ninebark, but avoid it in rain gardens or in soil that is poorly draining.

As ninebark’s most well-known doppelganger, spirea is a fellow rose-family cousin with similarly shaped flowers. Choose varieties like ‘Anthony Waterer’ spirea or ‘Bridal Wreath’ spirea for a visually appealing combo in the landscape. If growing ninebark in a rain garden or poorly drained area, spirea will not do as well.


Close-up shot of a flowering Lilacs bush in a sunny garden. The plant produces clusters of showy, tubular flowers. These flowers have 4-5 petals, are tubular in shape and are of a beautiful purple color. The shrub features simple, opposite leaves that are heart-shaped.Lilac’s fragrant flowers pair with ninebark well for a hedge or layered planting.

The classic fragrant flowers of lilac pair very nicely with ninebark for a privacy hedge or layered planting. Lilac enjoys well-drained soil with slightly alkaline pH, so prepare the area for a thriving lilac and let ninebark hang out in the background of a bed. 


Close-up shot of young Ninebark and Dogwood bushes growing in the garden. Ninebark has upright purple stems covered in purple, three-lobed leaves with jagged edges. Dogwood has simple, ovate leaves that are variegated in color. They are green with creamy white edges.Pair dogwoods with ninebarks for slope stabilization that complements the ninebark’s appearance.

Dogwoods are a great companion for ninebarks for soil stabilization on slopes. The distinctive red bark and white flowers look beautiful alongside the ninebark’s shreddy cinnamon bark, maple-like leaves, and clustered white blooms. Both plants establish quickly and help hold sloped soil in place, preventing further erosion.

Pests and Diseases

Ninebark shrubs are the host plant of the native ninebark beetle, so if you notice colorful, intricately decorated beetles crawling on the plant, don’t panic! These are not pests, and they provide important ecological benefits. 

However, the shrubs can fall victim to aphids, spider mites, and scale insects that you may need to monitor. Fire blight, powdery mildew, and leaf spot may also be an issue in humid or hot climates.

Aphids, Spider Mites, Scale

Close-up of a plant stem covered with a swarm of aphids. Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects with pear-shaped bodies, usually measuring a few millimeters in length. They are pale green in color and have long antennae and distinctive cornicles.Ninebark, usually resilient, may need horticultural soap or neem oil if pests cause defoliation.

These sap-sucking insects tend to attack stressed or poorly adapted plants. Ninebark is generally quite resilient and doesn’t need pesticide applications to protect it.

Often, a rough spray of hose water is enough to knock the pests off. However, if the pests begin causing major defoliation, you may need a horticultural soap or neem oil application to prevent colonies from spreading.

Fire Blight

Close-up of leaves infected with the bacterium Erwinia amylovora. The leaves are lobed, with jagged edges, and green in color. They have large dry, wilted, rotting spots due to fungal disease.Prevent fire blight with sanitation and copper fungicidal sprays.

Fire blight is a highly destructive plant disease affecting many rose family members, including pears, crabapples, hawthorn, spirea, and roses. Key symptoms include wilting, blackened blossoms, and browning leaves on the ends of shoots. Sometimes, the shoots droop over and look like a fire has scorched them. Cankers develop on older stems and may ooze a brown liquid during summer.

Erwinia amylovora is the bacteria that causes fire blight. It overwinters in cankers and spreads via wind, rain splash, and insects. Prevention is vital, including sanitizing your tools, removing infected branches, and preventing an accumulation of debris near the plant. 

Lime sulfur sprays may suppress the blight when shrubs are flowering. You may need to apply a liquid copper fungicide for a major infection.

Powdery Mildew

Close-up of leaves and flowers of a Ninebark plant against a blurred background. Leaves are affected by powdery mildew. The leaves are burgundy-purple in color, jagged, covered with a thin gray-white powdery coating. The plant produces a rounded inflorescence of many small, white, star-shaped flowers.Combat ninebark powdery mildew with organic copper fungicide, neem oil, and environmental controls.

Ninebarks are notorious for their susceptibility to powdery mildew, which appears as white tips that look like they’ve been dusted with flour. As the disease spreads in high humidity and warm weather, the leaves may become covered in a white coating that hinders photosynthesis and reduces overall plant health. 

The best way to get rid of powdery mildew fungus is to use an organic copper fungicide or a neem oil spray.

There are also some resistant cultivars. Wider spacing and full sun plantings are more resilient against fungal infection.

Plant Uses

Close-up of a flowering bush Physocarpus opulifolius against a blurred background. The clusters of small flowers form delicate blooms with five-petaled, star-like structures, exhibiting shades of white and pink. The leaves are deeply lobed, serrated, burgundy and arranged alternately along the stems.Ninebark, a native deciduous shrub, suits low-maintenance landscapes and helps to stabilize hillsides.

Ninebark is a native deciduous multi-stemmed shrub mostly used in low-maintenance landscapes. Its clusters of white flowers provide ornamental value in spring, and the cinnamon to burgundy-colored bark looks intriguing in a winter landscape.

The fast-growing shrub is especially useful for stabilizing hillsides and preventing soil erosion. It can also be used in rain gardens where other plants may have trouble tolerating poor drainage or excess water puddling.

Final Thoughts

It isn’t easy to find a plant as easygoing and resilient as ninebark! This attractive shrub can handle intense extremes from frigid USDA zone 2 to warm zone 9. It doesn’t mind overly wet or drought-prone soils, and it fends for itself while providing year-round aesthetic interest. 

The most important thing to remember is that ninebark needs full sunlight in northern zones and adequate water to get established. Avoid this plant in hot southern climates.

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