Summer Wine NinebarkPhysocarpus opulifolius 'Seward' (PP# 14,821)
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Physocarpus opulifolius 'Seward' (PP# 14,821)
Outdoor Growing zone
The Summer Wine Ninebark is an arching deciduous shrub growing 6 to 8 feet tall and wide, with spectacular burgundy-purple leaves that never fade or turn greenish. It is densely branched, with a solid structure and makes a great shrub for all gardens. It is especially valuable in colder parts of the country, and brings color from spring to fall. In June and July the branches are covered in clusters of small white flowers with pink stamens. These add a great summer touch to a reliable plant that grows well on slopes and banks or can be turned into a hedge, with or without trimming.
Full sun will keep your Summer Wine Ninebarks looking great, as more than a very little shade will turn the leaves more greenish. Able to handle difficult soils, it will grow in anything that isn’t constantly wet, including urban soils, construction waste, and in both clays and gravels. It is resistant to powdery mildew and won’t have pest problems, Even deer usually leave it alone. You can trim it if you wish, or let it grow naturally, regenerating it after a few years by removing a few of the oldest branches.
If you live in cold and cooler parts of the country, you can’t garden without ninebark bushes. Working from the wild native form, breeders have turned it into one of the very best foliage shrubs available, and a way to have a colorful garden month after month without relying on flowering shrubs. Some of the older forms, though, can be tall and ungainly, and the purple leaves often develop a dull, greenish look. So we were thrilled when we saw the Summer Wine Ninebark, which solves those problems with its solid, bushy form and bigger, undulating leaves that keep their rich burgundy-purple coloring from spring through fall, without greening out. We also loved the charming clusters of pale-pink flowers that stud the branches in June and July, adding a lovely counterpoint along the arching, dark-leaved branches. Best of all, we loved how rugged and reliable this plant is – incredibly cold-hardy, drought and pest resistant, an all round ‘tough guy’ that is the answer to easy gardening in difficult locations.
The Summer Wine Ninebark is an upright, arching deciduous shrub that grows up to 2 feet a year when young, soon reaching 5 to 8 feet in height, and spreading out to a similar width. The stems are sturdy and flexible, and they don’t break under snow or ice. The bark is especially attractive in winter and spring, giving interest at that time. It is reddish-brown in color, and peeling into strips of many layers – in fact it’s all those layers that give this plant its name – 9 barks. The new leaves sprout early in the season, and they look a bit like a maple leaf, because they are divided into 3 distinct, pointed lobes. They have a rough texture and a slight gloss, and they are about 2 ½ inches long and wide, with a full, slightly undulating look. The big attraction is the color, which right from the get-go is a deep, rich burgundy-purple, just like a glass of good red wine. This color is held into the summer and into fall, without any of the dulling or greening we see on older varieties.
In June and July clusters of small flowers develop all along the branches. Each cluster is about 1-inch across, with around 30 tiny flowers in it, but they make up for their size with their abundance. Their petals are white, but the flower parts are rich pink, so the flower clusters look pale pink against the dark-red leaves – a great combination that is truly delightful. The clusters of seed pods seen on some ninebarks in early winter are often not produced on this plant.
The rapid growth-rate of this shrub makes it a great choice for a new garden – you will have a substantial impact within a couple of seasons. Use it for filling spaces – plant in groups if you have larger areas, spacing plants 4 or 5 feet apart. It looks very effective planted with gold or yellow-leaved shrubs – perhaps other ninebarks such as Lemon Candy™ – and with silver-leaved perennials. Use it on slopes and banks, where the tough roots will stabilize the soil, or turn it into a colorful hedge by planting 3 feet apart for a lower hedge, or 4 feet for a taller one. It can be left as an informal screen, or clipped into a more formal feature.
Ninebarks are always top choices for cold zones, and the Summer Wine Ninebark is no exception. It is completely hardy throughout zone 3, and thrives in all the coolest zones, only beginning to suffer from heat once it gets into zone 8.
Although it will adapt to a couple of hours of shade a day, it is much better to grow the Summer Wine Ninebark in full sun, as this keeps the leaves looking great and strongly-colored. Too much shade will turn them greenish and produce weaker growth. This plant will grow in almost any soil that is well-drained, and not constantly wet. It grows in acid and alkaline soils, in clays or sands, and even in poor urban soil, construction waste and other difficult locations. It grows well on banks and rocky slopes too.
Ninebarks are often over-trimmed – try just letting this plant grow and it will form a wonderful arching fountain of branches, with much more charm than when it is clipped into a mound. Of course you need to leave enough room when planting for this, as it will soon be 6 to 8 feet across. Once it becomes older you can remove a few of the oldest branches close to the ground in early spring, and removing the tips of young branches will make it bushier. It can of course also be trimmed into hedges and more rounded shapes, at just about any time of year.
The Summer Wine Ninebark isn’t bothered by pests or diseases, and has good resistance to powdery mildew, a disease that can make summer leaves on other varieties gray and ugly. You can never be sure with deer, but they do need to be pretty desperate before they will nibble at it. Water regularly during the first growing season – after that it is generally drought resistant and tough.
Throughout the east, from New York state to Florida, you can find the ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius, growing along riverbanks and in open areas on gravel or around the edges of woods. The wild, green-leaf form was widely grown in northern gardens for a very long time, but 20 years ago we started to see colored leaf forms appearing, and since then there have been many, with either yellow or red leaves.
In 2000 Timothy Wood, a plant breeder with Spring Meadow Nursery, Inc. Grand Haven, Michigan, took pollen from the original red-leaf ninebark, Diabolo® (Monlo) and used it to pollinate a traditional green-leaf dwarf form, called variety nanus. Among the seedlings was what he was hoping for – a more compact plant that had red leaves. His new plant was named Seward and patented in 2004. The registered trademark name Summer Wine® was taken out for it in the same year by Spring Meadow Nursery.
You won’t believe how easy it is to have bold color from spring to fall when you grow the Summer Wine Ninebark. It’s such a great improvement on the older Diabolo that it has been crazy popular, so order now – we can’t seem to keep these plants in stock for more than a few days.