Ninebarks are among the many deciduous shrubs that are popular for landscape decoration. They are loved for their pink and white flowers that pop beautifully in contrast with their dense, bright foliage.
Despite being tough plants, ninebark shrubs might occasionally face some issues. Improper care is the most common reason these attractive plants start losing their health. In many cases, they might display browning and wilting leaves, which can make them look as if they are dying. But do not lose heart! With early intervention, most plant problems are rarely fatal for ninebarks.
So, if you have a sickly looking ninebark and you are wondering why it is dying, keep reading as we dig into the details below.
Ninebark plant overview
At some point, you have probably come across a garden of beautiful shrubs adorned with white, cup-shaped flowers, vivid foliage, and bark that peels during winter. Ninebarks, also known as Physocarpus, are deciduous shrubs commonly used for border planting or landscaping due to their abundant flowers.
Ninebark is a genus of flowering shrubs that belongs to the Rosaceae family. The plant typically grows with multiple stems which are densely arched, making them a favorite nesting site for many birds. Ninebarks can grow between five and 12 feet in height and spread between three and 12 feet.
Another interesting fact about these shrubs is that their leaves can vary in shape and size, despite growing on the same bush. Plant breeders have also created several beautiful varieties of ninebark that come with different foliage colors, ranging from orange, bright gold, deep purple and maroon, to nearly black. Its clusters of flowers, which come in pink or white, typically bloom during the late spring or summer, creating a beautiful contrast with the foliage.
Ninebarks are not only pretty – they are extremely versatile, too! Gardeners can benefit from having ninebarks in the garden as these plants are great at attracting pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Additionally, ninebarks are not on the list of favorite snacks for most animals. Deer and curious rabbits might occasionally have a taste, but in most cases, the plants are avoided by wildlife.
Want to grow your own ninebarks in the backyard? Then here are more interesting facts you should know:
Ninebarks are tough plants, as long as they are grown within hardiness zones 3 to 7. They can tolerate almost any type of soil, whether it is clay, sandy, dry, compact, or loose. They can also grow in both full sunlight or partial shade. On top of that, ninebarks are known to be resistant to most plant diseases and pests.
With all these amazing features, it would appear to be almost impossible to kill a ninebark plant. However, all plants have their limits, and you cannot neglect them for too long. Without adequate growing conditions, even tough plants like ninebarks will eventually struggle and die.
Why is my ninebark dying? Signs to look out for
Although ninebarks are fairly tolerant and hard to kill, they are not completely immune to certain issues. If your beautiful shrub suddenly loses its vigor, it is likely caused by long-term neglect and inappropriate growing conditions.
A ninebark that is struggling with some kind of environmental stress might show one or a combination of these symptoms:
1. Curling leaves
Ninebarks might be hardy, but improper care can make them susceptible to foliar damage. Curling leaves is a sign of a distressed plant, and there are many possible reasons your shrub might display such unhealthy-looking foliage.
A lack of water is often the culprit. Growers who live in busy households can easily forget to water their plants. While ninebarks can temporarily forgive a lack of care and attention, leaving them water-deprived for too long will eventually cause too much loss of moisture. Curling leaves is a clear sign that the shrub is trying to conserve the remaining water in its tissues so it can survive a few more days.
So, from now on, do not forget to water your plant! Check the soil regularly and water it whenever the top layer becomes dry.
2. Leaves are turning brown
Ninebark leaves come in a range of different and attractive colors, depending on the variety. However, none of these is brown. Ninebark leaves that are brown and brittle are a sign that your deciduous shrub might be dying.
First of all, the browning of the leaves could indicate that your shrub is not getting enough nutrients from the soil. Ninebarks are generally low-maintenance once they are fully established, but poor soil quality will have a negative effect on their long-term health. Thankfully, this issue can be easily corrected by enriching the soil with compost or all-purpose fertilizer.
Another possible cause of brown leaves is root damage. When the roots are compromised, so is the ability of the plant to absorb soil nutrients. Water uptake can also be an issue in this instance, hence the brown and drying foliage.
There are two very common causes of root damage in ninebarks, the first of which is transplant shock. The good news, if this is the cause, is that your shrub will likely bounce back a few weeks after being transplanted, once it has acclimatized to its new environment.
The second cause of root damage is root rot, a fungal disease that affects overwatered plants. Root rot is a serious issue, and severely affected plants are unlikely to recover. The best way to combat root rot is to prevent it in the first place. The rule is simple – never overwater your plants! Although your ninebark is a forgiving plant, it cannot live healthily in waterlogged soil. In most cases, fully established ninebark shrubs will only need watering once a week, since they are fairly drought-tolerant.
3. Not blooming
As mentioned previously, ninebarks are famous not only for their stunning foliage, but also for their abundant blooms. If your plant fails to produce these gorgeous flower clusters in the spring and summer, you might start to wonder whether it is struggling – or even dying.
Failure to bloom can be caused by several issues, from improper watering or inadequate sunlight, to nutrient deficiencies. But, in most cases, the lack of abundant flowers is due to over-pruning the shrub before it starts to bloom. Some growers intentionally prune their ninebarks to achieve a bushier appearance, but the blooms will be sacrificed. Hence, if you need to prune your shrub, make sure to do it after it has finished flowering.
Wilting often happens when your ninebark is newly planted. It might look unhealthy and on death’s door, but in reality, it is simply adjusting to its news environment and establishing its roots. So do not worry – just give it enough time to become strong and firmly established.
However, stay vigilant for other possible symptoms, such as yellowing or browning of the leaves, the presence of spots or blotches on the leaves, leaf distortion, or stunted growth. These tell-tale signs are often linked to some serious underlying issues. In that case, check the other symptoms mentioned previously and review your plant care routine.
Common ninebark disease and pests
Fully established ninebark shrubs are generally resilient to most plant pests and diseases. However, without proper upkeep, they can lose their vigor and become vulnerable to certain issues. For example, like any other plant, ninebarks can fall victim to aphid infestation. Thankfully, these pests can be easily managed with natural pesticides like neem oil.
Unhealthy shrubs might also be attacked by fungal diseases, including leaf spot, fire blight, and powdery mildew. These diseases will not quickly kill a ninebark, as long as the problem is addressed right away. Spray the infected plant with neem oil, fungicide, or other appropriate remedies to kill the fungal spores. Badly infected leaves or branches should also be pruned to prevent the spread of the disease.
When should you prune your ninebark?
Ninebark shrubs do not generally require regular pruning and are best left untouched to maintain their natural shape and bushy growth. However, trimming their old branches once a year may be beneficial to encourage air circulation around their dense foliage. Just make sure not to overdo it, especially if you want abundant flowers. Ninebarks produce their blooms on old wood, so you should only prune them after flowering.
When pruning your ninebark, make sure that only one third of its branches are trimmed. Remove older and damaged stems first, followed by those that are tangled with one another. Thoroughly trim older shrubs close to the ground, preferably before winter, to promote healthy growth of leaves and flowers the next spring.
Lastly, do not worry if your ninebark loses leaves during the winter, as this is the plant’s dormancy period. You might also notice the shrub’s bark exfoliating, which is normal. Your plant will bounce back and bloom beautifully once the winter months are over.
Ninebarks are tough and very forgiving plants, but this does not mean they can survive long-term without proper care. If your ninebark shrub looks sad and you think it may be dying, you probably need to review your watering routine, pruning habits, and overall plant care. Ninebark shrubs are not especially challenging to care for; just ensure the appropriate growing conditions and they should start regenerating their lush foliage in no time!
Image: istockphoto.com / Nadezhda Tonkova