Barberry – Care, Growing, Watering, Flowering, Propagation

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An adaptable, colorful and low maintenance shrub, the barberry is well suited for being kept as hedges, but it can also be grown in containers.

The barberry features spiny shoots and colorful leaves that range from green to burgundy. Berberis vulgaris produces yellow-orange flowers, followed by red, oval-shaped berries.

If you’re considering this shrub for a hedge in your garden, it’s minimal maintenance and low requirements make it an ideal candidate.

The plant care tips I’ve put together below will help you create ideal conditions for the barberry and achieve a luscious growth.

Barberry Plant Care Tips

The following plant care tips focus on the essentials of caring for barberries. By reading these tips, you’ll know how to cultivate this plant and what are some of the problem areas to watch out for.

Plant Size

At its mature size, the barberry shrub reaches 9 feet in height by 6 feet in width. Because of its uniform growth, it’s often chosen to be kept as a hedge. The plant reaches its ultimate height usually within 5-10 years.

If you’re growing this plant in a container, you’re going to need to carry out some pruning to keep the plant at a size that works best for you considering the size of the container.

Occasional pruning, however, is the most this plant requires in terms of maintenance. It’s best to carry out pruning after flowering.

It can tolerate even severe pruning; it will grow back again from the base without issues.

Light Requirements

The barberry shrub does best in partial shade to full sun. When positioning the plant, focus on south or west-facing exposure. East-facing exposure is also acceptable.

Watering

The plant enjoys moist soil as long as the soil has good drainage. That said, the barberry plant can be forgiving if you sometimes forget to water it, just don’t make a habit out of forgetting to water it.

Temperature & Humidity

Berberis vulgaris is native almost exclusively to temperate and subtropical regions of the world.

The shrub is frost-resistant, so you need not worry about sheltering it from cold temperatures or moving the plant inside.

The barberry is not particular about humidity levels, although it does not tolerate extreme maritime exposure.

Soil Type

The barbery is also not particular about its soil type, but it does prefer soil that is rich and light as opposed to dry soil.

Sandy, loamy, chalk and clay soils are all good options to growing the Berberis vulgaris. The soil should be moist, alkaline or neutral.

Fertilizing

The Barberry plant does not require extra fertilizer.  Simply enrich the soil with deciduous compost when planting, and it should do fine.

Potting & Repotting

The barberry shrub can be grown even in tubs and containers. Repotting will be needed infrequently, only when the plant outgrows its container or to freshen up the soil.

Barberry Plant Propagation

There are two ways to propagate the Berberis vulgaris — from seed or by cuttings. If you’re choosing to propagate from seed, make sure to remove all the berry pulp before planting. Otherwise the seeds may not germinate.

If you’re propagating from stem cutting, take a cutting that’s around 6 inches after the flowers have faded. Make sure to cut just below the leaf node.

Remove shoots on the lower half, dip the cutting’s end in rooting hormone and plant into the rooting pot.

Keep the soil moist and cover the pot with a plastic wrap to hold the moisture in. Don’t let the soil dry out, add water if the top seems to be drying out.

In about 3 weeks, the cuttings should have roots. In another 2 weeks, the barberry cuttings are ready to be planted out.

Barberry FAQs

The FAQs below will address some of the potential issues and other caring tips related to the Berberis vulgaris.

Are barberries edible?

Barberry shrubs were cultivated for their fruits that were eaten pickled, raw or cooked. The fruits have an acidic taste even when ripe. Fruits were pickled in vinegar and consumed.

The leaves of the barberry are also edible. Dried leaves were used to make medicinal tea. That said, you should not consume any parts of the burberry unless you’ve positively identified the shrub.

Minor toxicity issues cannot be excluded. In some, the burberry will cause vomiting or indigestion, so it’s best to avoid eating the fruits or leaves.

How often do I need to trim my barberry shrub?

The barberry does not grow too fast, so trimming can be carried out even at a once per year frequency, using normal hedge trimmers.

Is it normal for the barberry shrub to change color in autumn or winter?

Yes, the leaves on some barberry shrubs will change color and get in ‘trend’ with seasonal changes. Leaves can become darker or turn to various shades of burgundy.

Is the barberry an invasive species?

Some barberry varieties are considered invasive because of their propensity to grow out of control. One such example is the Japanese barberry, which is considered invasive in some areas.

If you want to plant barberry shrubs, make sure to check with local regulations as some species may be prohibited.

Does the barberry shrub attract ticks?

Yes, the Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii and not the vulgaris variety) is believed to be a prime hiding spot for disease carrying ticks. In areas where this shrub is densely grown, an increase in Lyme disease carrying tick population was observed.

Conclusion

Whether you want to grow Berberis vulgaris as a hedge or as an ornamental plant in a tub or container, you can do so without putting much work into the process.

This low-maintenance shrub looks good in every season, it’s resistant to pests and diseases, and has minimal upkeep requirements.

There are hundreds of barberry shrub varieties, the most notable ones being the Berberis vulgaris, Berberis thunbergii, Berberis x mentorensis, and the Berberis julianae.

This last variety produces extremely thorny branches, while the Japanese barberry is considered invasive in many areas, so make sure to check local regulations regarding its cultivation.

Updated: July 8, 2020

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