by Wendy Tyrrell
Did you know that Fall is the best time to plant your native shrubs and trees? Fall plantings will continue to set down roots into the autumnal soil and is the only time of year you can plant, and once the rains begin, forget about them until the warmth of spring!
One of my favourite native shrubs is Pacific Ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus). I must admit, as a closet plant geek, the Latin name could be it’s greatest attribute! Just try saying it aloud a few times and observe how it rolls off the tongue! Luckily, there are many other great qualities to this shrub for the home garden…
Pacific ninebark is a deciduous shrub in the Rose Family that grows from 2-4 metres with arching branches. Some say there are nine layers of bark, leading to its name. Ninebark displays peeling reddish bark in Winter and greets each Spring with bright maple-like green leaves and showy clusters of creamy-white flowers with long pink stamens. In Autumn these shrubs shine with golden yellow-orange leaves. The unique fruits are inflated glossy-red pods that split open to release seeds. It is a fast growing shrub that prefers full sun to part shade. For the garden, it prefers moist sites and will tolerate seasonal flooding, as well as summer droughts. Ninebark is one tough shrub that handles a wide range of conditions! Try growing along with Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana) and hardhack (Spiraea douglasii).
First Nations have longed valued this plant. The Nuu-chah-nulth made children’s bows and other small items from the wood and the Cowichan recently have made knitting needles from the branches. However, many considered this shrub to be highly poisonous.
Humans are not the only species to enjoy the variable display of fruit, flowers and bark. Pacific ninebark is extremely beneficial to wildlife. The abundant flowers provide food for the Spring Azure butterfly larvae and nectar for many insects, including bees. Other wildlife benefits include forage (those bright red seed-pods), cover and nesting habitat for birds and small mammals. Deer will browse on buds, twigs and leaves.
Little maintenance is required for this native shrub once established. Minimal pruning is recommended to maintain the shape of the plant. To enhance the exfoliating bark which for some is its chief attraction, only prune one third of the older branches in any one year. If a more youthful looking plant is desired, then hard pruning in the spring of all the older branches will suffice.
Look for Pacific ninebark at nursery centres or try propagating by hardwood cuttings or seed. For more information visit the Pacific Northwest Native Wildlife Gardening website at http://www.tardigrade.org/natives/index.html.