Barberry, a great shrub for the landscape

June 10th, 2007

Two Barberry Varieties, yellow & redThere is something to be said about barberries. They do not have beautiful flowers. Their scent can be bad. Their foliage, though nice, is beat by other plants. And yet I find myself thinking of them as one of the best bushes for the landscape.

The reasons? Sheer growability. Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) are hardy to zone 4, can take sun or shade, wet or dry, and will come back strong after a beating. We had one growing up along our foundation when we had new siding put on. Because of the thorns I needed to remove it so the workers could do their thing. I cut it down, and since I was too lazy to dig it up (it was quite mature) I just attacked it’s root ball with an axe and left it covered with debris. It was stepped on and worked on for months… and the plant came back and grew to 4 feet the next year. Any plant that can take that kind of abuse cannot be all bad.

Critters also will not eat barberry. It has been used as a herbal medicine and apparently it has a very bitter taste. I know it’s yellowish wood certainly does not look appetizing. So it is either from the taste, or the aforementioned spikes, but deer & rabbits leave it alone, and I mean that. I know in many gardening catalogues I’ll read “Deer tend to avoid.” and think its BS because I’ve seen deer eat that shrub before, but if anything is truly critter resistant, barberry is.

Most barberry you will find in nurseries and garden centers will be of the burgundy variety, and thats great. It is important to use contrasting colors in garden design and Barberries are a great reddish plant to use. However, there exists a newer variety that has yellow tinged foliage (pictured, along with a red variety). This variety is harder to find but with both a red and a yellow barberry you have all sorts of planting options available to you.

If there is one bad thing about barberries it is that they are deciduous, no winter interest except for a few small berries that the birds quickly eat. Though maybe further south some variety stay everygreen I hear.

So, they aren’t really standouts in any particular category, but they can be grown more or less by everyone, in almost any location, and can provide 2 nice non-green foliage colors to liven up your landscape. All that together makes them a great choice for your yard. My only word of advice would be to not plant them too close to paths or windows. Paths because of the thorns, and windows because their flowers are a little pungent (though you have to get really close to smell them).

61 Responses to “Barberry, a great shrub for the landscape”

  1. Robert Copson  Says:

    Found one growing wild in the woods behind my house. Eastern panhandle of wv.

  2. RC  Says:

    I planted a barberry last spring and now this spring the bottom twigs are brown and the top is burgundy and the inside of the twigs are green. Will this come back and start leafing out?

  3. carolyn  Says:

    In our condo development there seem to be 2 varieties: one grows evenly and full, has a great burgundy and red color. The 2 in my yard grow each year with spindly red shoots all over them and just looks like they need haircuts. Not nearly as pretty and seems to have more thorns than the others. Can you identify each variety?

  4. Cathy  Says:

    I have a barberry hedge that is striped with burgundy and green every other plant. This stuff was here when the former owners purchased the place in the 1950s. It requires some upkeep to keep the stripes, and it is no longer 5-foot formal hedge. I cut it back eight years ago and let go informal. I have to replace a couple plants each year. I have had no problem with them being invasive other than being overgrown if not tended. I sort of wish they would put out some new plants, so I didn’t have to buy new.

    I just bought four new green ones this spring. All got too dry, but 3 are back, and the other one has one green branch, so I know it is alive. My question is, after upping the water for 2-3 weeks with no signs of new growth, should I cut it way back? I live in the high desert of Colorado. Our soil is clay, and we don’t get much rain. It has been hot the last month.

  5. Kathy  Says:

    I have seen several people ask the same question I have with no answers. I just planted burgundy barberry a month ago and the leaves are brown. I thought they were hardy. I am disregarding all of those who call this plant a pest….a rose thorn can give you quite an infection, too. But I plant them. They were beautiful specimens when planted. Do you think they will still survive?

  6. Administrator  Says:

    sounds like it might not be getting the water it needs, but do not give up, they can come back from tough situations. If next spring it doesn’t start growing, then give up.

  7. Christine d.  Says:

    Green barberry are invasive in Thomaston, ME. They have penetrated the woods a couple of hundred feet back from residential areas and spring up in yards. I recently clipped our volunteer back and got a thorn prick which now looks terrible-purple ring around where the thorn was. Searching on the organism that lives on the dried bushes.

  8. Kristin  Says:

    Our landscaper recommended them for along our new privacy fence. He planted around 15 of them and I am just now starting to read not only all of this “invasive” stuff everyone is mentioning but my bigger concern is that the Japanese Barberry attracts ticks. Does the Golden Barberry have the same characteristic? We live in northeast Pennsylvania where ticks are already prevalent so I’m a little concerned. We have small children and I certainly don’t want to be attracting ticks into my yard! One person told me this is not as worrisome in a home landscape environment but I really do want to know the answer to this!

  9. eric williams  Says:

    japanese barberry is annhilating the Berkshire forests here in Massachusetts. Drive any smaller road in March, and you will see the low haze of green as this hideous monster leafs out earlier than any other plant. In summer, the hedges of barberry can be 8′ tall, intensely thick and thoroughly sickening. No tree seedlings grow in its midst, but deer tick populations flourish on their hosts, the white tailed mouse.

  10. Arthur Vidich  Says:

    Please do not recommend an extremely invasive species that harbors Lyme infected ticks! This page is nearly 10 years old, but you should put a disclaimer at the top. I think it’s even been phased out of permitted plants in nurseries. Horticulturalists have done irreparable damage to the north east by introducing this plant.

    120 Lyme infected ticks per acre where barberry was “not contained” as in growing wild.
    40 Lyme infected ticks per acre where barberry was “contained”
    10 Lyme infected ticks per acre where barberry was absent

    Research by Tom Worthley, ( University of Connecticut Dept of Extension in College of Agriculture & Natural Resource), Scott Williams, ( University of Connecticut Dept of Natural Resources & Environment), and Jeffrey Ward (Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station Dept of Forestry & Horticulture), found:

  11. Administrator  Says:

    I think the comments have sufficed to warn people who might live in specific areas of New England where this is a problem. It is no where I have ever lived of course.

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