Posted by: gardenshf | May 19, 2012

Now Growing: Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo,’ Western Ninebark

May is the month when the open landscape of winter and spring is filled in. The hard edges have been softened by layer upon layer of growth, creating a living Monet canvas.

Tending the garden becomes the task for the next few months, and that means paying attention and actively participating in the health of the garden.

Sometimes it can be a challenge, but when summer arrives, we can slow down and enjoy the beauty that comes from the spring frenzy.

Many of the deciduous spring shrubs complete their blooming cycle, and while many leaf out after blooming there are some that continue to add interest to the garden landscape with the onset of the fruit.

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ is a beautiful cultivar of the California native shrub Physocarpus capitatus, or Western Ninebark. This woodland shrub is found growing along streams throughout the lower elevations of the mountains.

Ninebark is beautiful in all seasons. While it is deciduous, it has attractive burgundy bark in the winter months. With the arrival of spring, the shrub develops bright green foliage that deepens to a burgundy wine color with the onset of warmer temperatures. White corymbs — usually flat-topped flower clusters where the individual flower stalks grow upward from various points of the main stem to approximately the same height — have a tinge of pink from the tiny stamens. This contrast makes the flowers pop against the deep reds of the foliage.

As the weather heats up, the flowers fade to bright cherry red seed pods that continue to add interest and color to the summer garden. These four to five small capsular fruits give the appearance of a red flower.

Growing happily among the grasses and perennials in our waterfall garden here at Heather Farm, Ninebark is quite easy to maintain. It is planted in two spots; one at the top of the garden and at the lower portion of the garden. They both receive deep watering twice a week and are planted in a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade. Pruning is done in the fall to shape and remove any dead wood. An added benefit is its ability to attract butterflies and other beneficial insects that help control the aphid population during the spring months.

Ninebark is not fussy about its soil. It makes a great specimen plant, or grouped as a hedge, and does not seem to have any major pest or disease problems.


— Patrice Hanlon


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