Barberries are a large group of evergreen and deciduous shrubs that get their name from their barb-like spined branches. Colourful and low-maintenance, these shrubs flourish in any space. Check out these simple tips to get started.
What you need to know about barberry plants
- The evergreen types of barberry maintain a presence in the landscape year-round whether they are grown as hedges, foundation plants or specimens in a bed.
- Deciduous barberries add bright colour to the fall scene, and both types produce autumn berries.
- Because some species are host to a serious disease that attacks wheat, the cultivation of many barberry species is banned in Canada. Those described here are not affected.
Growing barberry plants the right way
- At nurseries, you will usually find barberry plants sold in containers. Set them out in either spring or fall, in planting holes twice as wide and as deep as the root ball. Plant them at the same depth at which the plants grew in their containers.
- Water well and cover the root zone with an eight-centimetre-thick (three-inch-thick) layer of organic mulch to help maintain soil moisture.
- Most barberries transplant very easily, show excellent disease resistance and are seldom bothered by insect or animal pests.
- Prune barberries only to shape the plants or remove damaged branches. If plants are leggy or misshapen because of old age or storm damage, severe pruning in early spring will force vigorous new growth.
Different types of barberry you should know
- Wintergreen barberry (Berberis julianae) is a dense, vigorous shrub with glossy leaves that are tinted copper when young. Growing into an impenetrable mass 1.8 metres (six feet) tall and wide, wintergreen barberry produces yellow flowers in spring, followed by small, blue-black berries. Normally evergreen to Zone 6, the leaves blush red in fall, and the plant sometimes sheds its leaves in extreme cold. However, healthy new foliage will appear first thing in spring.
- Japanese barberry (B. thunbergii) is deciduous and usually grows less than 1.2 metres (four feet) tall and wide. The green leaves turn scarlet in fall, blending with red berries that last through the winter.
- Many cultivars have purplish-red leaves that intensify in summer sun. These include ‘Crimson Pygmy’, a compact bush that grows less than one metre (three feet) tall and wide, and ‘Rose Glow’, which can reach 1.5 metres (five feet) tall and wide and has young leaves mottled in silver and pink.
- These dark-leaved barberries look dazzling when paired with plants that have chartreuse leaves, such as ‘Marguerite’ sweet potato vine or a sun-tolerant ‘Chartreuse’ coleus. There is also a Japanese barberry with golden yellow foliage named ‘Aurea’.
- Two species have been hybridized to create mentor barberry (B. × mentorensis), which has the vigour of one parent and vibrant foliage of the other. It grows to two metres (6.5 feet) tall and three metres (10 feet) wide and withstands dry conditions like a champ.
A simple barberry is a beautiful addition to any garden. Before making a choice, remember these easy tips and plant your barberry the right way.