Thanks to the unseasonably warm weather Mother Nature blessed us with recently, I've had lots of time to watch my garden put itself to bed for the winter. With few exceptions, the short, but spectacular show of autumn leaves is over and evergreens are taking center stage.
I have several shrubs that continue to hold on to their stunning autumn leaves making the transition to winter a bit easier.
The shrubs providing much of my colorful display are hybrids of the North American native ninebark Physocarpus opulifolius. Ninebark is named for its vertically exfoliating bark that's an ornamental feature in the winter garden. Today, hybridizers are having a heyday with ninebark because it's not picky when it comes to soils, once established it's drought resistant and the new varieties sport colorful leaves that are all the rage in today's garden.
Hardy to zone 3, this easy care shrub can be used in landscapes and gardens throughout Michigan. Depending on the variety, heights range from 4-10 feet, but they can be cut back hard every other year to keep them short. I use them as a color accent in my mixed perennial border. Specie and yellow-leafed ninebarks grow in part shade as well as full sun, but to get the best color from the dark-leafed varieties, plant them in places where they will get eight hours or more of direct sunlight.
The fine texture and compact branching of the Proven Winners Color Choice introduction "Summer Wine" will rise 5 to 6 feet when left to its own devices. The dark burgundy leaves morph to deep, rich, red when hit by frost.
The purple leaves of ninebark "Diablo" look almost black in the landscape, making them a stunning back(drop)for pink flowering plants such as roses. In full sun, they reach 10 feet in height, so I gave mine lots of space to grow.
The leaves of ninebark "Coppertina" emerge molten coppery-orange color providing an incredible burst of color in spring. As summer progresses, the leaves age to a deep red hue. An early summer season bonus of all ninebarks is the two-week shower of delicate clusters of white, pink tinged flowers.
The leaves of "Center Glow's" ninebark, a Bailey Nursery introduction, emerge green, but quickly morph to burgundy, coloring up from the outer edges moving inward, giving the centers a liquid gold hue when the sun hits them. "Darts Gold" and "Nugget" are good choices for folks who prefer yellow and lime colored leaves.