Barberry shines throughout the entire growing season with its vibrant foliage. In shades of green, yellow, and rich burgundy, these plants make up for their lack of showy blooms with their constantly colorful leaves. Although these tough hedge plants used to be planted frequently, they are now considered invasive plants in several regions. So if you are thinking of planting a barberry, make sure to check with your local authorities (most states issue invasive plant lists you shouldn't grow).
Barberries are mostly grown for their bright, colorful foliage and graceful arching stems. The traditional species of barberry most commonly grown has simple green leaves. But come fall, even this bland shrub lights up a garden space with brilliant shades of crimson, orange, and yellow. Many of the shrubs in their full fall glory seem to be almost lit from within by burning embers.
More recently, many varieties have been introduced that tout multicolor foliage in yellows, crimsons, and variegated leaf forms. These varieties have further added to the appeal of these extremely low-maintenance shrubs. The overall habit has also improved, in many cases making smaller, tidier plants that need minimal to no pruning in order to keep a nice shape. Do be warned that along with their small, brightly colored leaves, these branches hide many small needle-sharp thorns. In some cases, this is a welcome defense as a living wall against deer. Other times, it can be a hassle, especially when it comes to pruning.
Barberry Care Must-Knows
One of the main reasons this shrub has persisted is because it is a tough plant that can take a wide variety of conditions. Ideally, barberries prefer to live in full sun; they will perform their best and give the most color in this setting. However, they are tough enough that they can even perform well in part sun. Well-drained soil is also appreciated, as they don't like to have wet feet. In addition, protect your shrubs from winter damage.
When looking at varieties, make sure to keep an eye on overall size and habit of these shrubs. Some of the older varieties can get quite large and may require extra pruning, but that can be prevented by choosing a smaller variety. It is also key to note that many varieties can spread by underground runners and may form dense thickets.
Related: Tree & Shrub Care Guide
More and more, researchers are finding that this easy-to-grow shrub is taking over our native forests. The prolific berries these shrubs produce are being spread by birds and other animals and are starting to force out native plants. There's work being done to produce sterile varieties that won't seed to prevent this from happening, so if you're considering planting a barberry, contact local agencies to find out which varieties may be safe, or if the plants are banned altogether in your area.