Common Ninebark

Physocarpus opulifolius

Description & Overview

Common Ninebark is a tough, Wisconsin native shrub. Does it look a little wild? Yes, yes it does. Is it for everyone? Nope. But if you are looking for a shrub that can handle the bitter cold, many soil types, and even the occasional drought, Common Ninebark is a fine option. Its branches, which can look like a million stems are frantically reaching for purchase before they fall off the side of a cliff, provide dense coverage and plenty of interest in all four seasons.

May also be known as simply “Ninebark.”

Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 8-10 feet
Mature Spread: 8-10 feet
Growth Rate: Fast
Growth Form: Shrub
Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade
Site Requirements: Prefers moist, well-drained soil. Tolerates drought, occasional flooding, dry sites, wet sites, alkaline and acid soils, clay soil, road salt, and Black Walnut.
Flower: White Clusters
Bloom Period: Late May-Early June
Foliage: Lobed, Dark Green
Fall Color: Rusty yellow or gold, Orange.
Fruit Notes: Capsule

Suggested Uses:

In nature, Common Ninebark is often found along streams, in moist fields and thickets, and on rocky hillsides. It is a very tolerant plant and can handle drought, occasional flooding, clay soil, dry soil, wet soil, shallow-rocky soil, and proximity to Black Walnut.

As a fast grower with dense foliage, Common Ninebark is a perfect choice for a screen or a hedge. Mass plantings are also beautiful when blooming in the spring. The rather showy white blooms give way to orange-red fruit pods in late summer. There is some variation in fall color but for the most part, it is a brownish-yellow or even a rusty orange. The reddish-brown bark peels off in layers from mature stems to provide winter interest.

This shrub can handle salt spray, making it a good choice near a sidewalk or road. It can also handle almost any soil condition, even heavy clay. Use it to naturalize an area. Due to its hardiness Ninebark can be planted in locations where continued care would be inconvenient as once established it is difficult to kill.

Can also be used to stabilize slopes.

Common Ninebark has a lot of really nice attributes that can qualify it for some yards, but it has an unfair reputation as being aggressive. Although, “aggressive” is a positive attribute in many landscape scenarios, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. Have some fun learning about Naughty Natives: Shrubs, then stick around for the other sections that talk about trees and perennials with that distinction.

Wildlife Value:

Birds and mammals eat the seeds and use the shrub for shelter against weather and predators. This especially helps ground birds such as turkey, quail, and pheasant. Birds use the strips of bark from the stems as nesting material.

Hummingbirds, honeybees, long and short-tongued bees, and mining bees, as well as wasps and flies have been observed foraging the flowers. Common Ninebark is a host plant for several moth species including White Spring Moth (Lomographa vestaliata), Unicorn Caterpillar (Schizura unicornis), Dark-spotted Palthis Moth (Palthis angulalis), Io Moth (Automeris io), Large Maple Spanworm (Prochoerodes lineola), Hitched Arches (Melanchra adjunct), Bluish Spring Moth (Lomographa semiclarata), Glorious Habrosyne Moth (Habrosyne gloriosa), Raspberry Leafroller Moth (Olethreutes permundana), and Dimorphic Eulithis Moth (Eulithis molliculata).

Other insect visitors include Ninebark Calligrapha Beetle (Calligrapha spiraeae), Plagiognathus punctatipes, beetles, and aphids.

Maintenance Tips:

Common Ninebark needs little maintenance especially if planted in a site with full sun and good airflow.

Ninebark does benefit from some yearly pruning. Renewal pruning helps maintain plant health while keeping its gains in size. Cut back 1/3 or less of the oldest canes in early spring. Thinning Ninebark out this way maintains good airflow which helps to keep powdery mildew in check. If preferred, Ninebark can also be cut to the ground with Rejuvenative Pruning in early spring as a way to control its size.


Powdery mildew is one of the only diseases to affect Common Ninebark. Do what you can to prevent this common fungus by planting in full sun in a location with good airflow. Sometimes, in wet weather, it can be unavoidable. If it appears in isolated patches or witch’s brooms these can simply be pruned out and disposed of well away from the healthy plant.

Leaf Lore:

Name: Ninebark refers to the layers of peeling bark, of which there are said to be 9. The genus name Physocarpus comes from ‘Physo,’ meaning “bladder” and ‘karpon’ meaning “fruit.”

Ninebark has been bred into many varieties with different spring/summer foliage colors and sizes. Check out our Public Inventory to see available nativars.

Medicinal Uses: Large doses of this plant can be toxic although this plant is used, by those qualified, to treat some ailments.

Companion Plants:

Common Ninebark handles so many different sites that there are limitless possibilities.

Other Wisconsin native shrubs such as Glossy Black Chokeberry, Witherod Viburnum, and Common Witchhazel could be mixed into the landscape for diversity. Perennials like Red Milkweed, Wild Bergamot, Yellow Coneflower, and Ironweed all do well in full sun and moist soil and would complement Common Ninebark nicely.

Consider Common Ninebark as an alternative to Spirea. Similar flowers. Tougher. Native.

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