How to Plant and Grow Barberry

This tough shrub has gorgeous foliage, but it must be planted responsibly.

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. Unfortunately, along with their small, brightly colored leaves, the branches hide many small needle-sharp thorns. In some cases, this is a welcome defense as a living wall against deer. At other times, it can be a hassle, especially when it comes to pruning.

When looking at varieties, keep an eye on these shrubs' overall size and habit. Some older types can get quite large and require extra pruning, but that can be prevented by choosing a smaller variety. It is also crucial to note that many varieties can spread by underground runners and may form dense thickets.

Barberry Overview

Genus Name Berberis
Common Name Barberry
Plant Type Shrub
Light Part Sun, Sun
Height 2 to 10 feet
Width 3 to 8 feet
Flower Color Yellow
Foliage Color Blue/Green, Chartreuse/Gold, Purple/Burgundy
Season Features Colorful Fall Foliage, Spring Bloom, Winter Interest
Special Features Attracts Birds, Low Maintenance
Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Propagation Seed, Stem Cuttings
Problem Solvers Deer Resistant, Drought Tolerant, Good For Privacy

Where to Plant Barberry

Barberry is a tough plant that can take a wide variety of conditions. Ideally, barberries prefer to live in full sun; they perform their best and give the most color in this setting. However, they are tough enough to perform well in part sun. They need well-draining soil; their roots don't do well in soggy soil.

Barberry tolerates conditions such as heavy pollution and salt spray from roadways, making them a good choice for urban gardens.

Although barberry shrubs used to be planted extensively, they're now considered invasive in the northeastern United States from Maine to North Carolina and west to Wisconsin and Missouri. If you are thinking of planting a barberry, check with your local agricultural extension.

How and When to Plant Barberry

Fall is the best time to plant barberry shrubs; it gives them time to develop their root systems before spring growth. Plant a nursery-grown barberry by digging a hole that is twice as wide and the same depth as the container. Loosen the soil around the sides and in the bottom of the hole with a shovel. If the soil is not well-draining, amend it with compost. Remove the shrub from its container and position it so that the root crown sits at soil level. Backfill the hole with the removed soil and tamp it down to remove air pockets. Water the shrub and apply a 2-inch layer of mulch around the base of the plant.

Barberry Care Tips

Barberry is a low-maintenance shrub that needs little attention to thrive.


Plant barberry bushes in full sun or partial shade. The warmer the temperatures in your area, the more shade the plants need to prevent the leaves from scorching.

Soil and Water

Well-drained soil is essential for barberry, as they don't do well with damp roots. In addition, protect your shrubs from winter damage. Barberry is a robust shrub that can tolerate many types of soil. However, the ideal soil for barberry is a well-draining, loamy soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5.

Barberry is drought tolerant, so other than during a very dry season or scorching temperatures, it's unlikely it will need watering. However, if leaves begin to fall off the plant, that's a sign that water is needed.

Temperature and Humidity

Barberry does better in cool temperatures rather than in hot and humid conditions. Protect it from high winds if possible.


Barberry doesn't need fertilizing unless the soil is very poor. Add some mulch to young plants to protect them and keep moisture in the soil.


The small, tidy varieties of barberry plants need minimal to no pruning to keep a nice shape. Remove dead branches or leaves as needed, preferably in summer or winter.

Pests and Problems

Barberry isn't highly susceptible to diseases, but it can be affected by rust or verticillium wilt. Common garden pests like aphids and scale, which suck on the juices of barberry, can be eliminated with a strong spray from a garden hose.

How to Propagate Barberry

The best way to propagate barberry shrubs is with cuttings, but they can also be propagated with seed. However, seeds do not result in plants identical to the parent plant, and they require a period of cold stratification.

Cuttings: Take 6-inch semi-hardwood cuttings after the flowers have faded in the spring or early summer, making the cut just below a leaf node. Semi-hardwood cuttings are current year growth that has begun to turn firm. Remove any leaves or buds from the bottom half of the cutting, dip it in rooting hormone, and insert it into a pot filled with sterile rooting medium. Add water and place a clear plastic bag over the pot.

Mist the cutting occasionally to keep the medium moist but not wet. Four to six weeks later, test the cutting by tugging gently on a leaf. If you feel resistance, the cutting has rooted. When it has rooted, remove the plastic bag and continue to grow it in a protected area for about a year. Fall is the best time to plant the shrub outside in the garden or landscape.

Seeds: Harvest several berries in late summer. Mash the berries and soak them in water overnight to remove the pump. Discard seeds that float to the top and spread the remaining seeds on a paper towel to dry, making sure all the pulp is removed. Fill 4-inch pots with seed-starting mix and moisten it. Sow two seeds per pot about 1/2 inch deep and add water. Wrap the pots in plastic wrap, creating several holes for ventilation, and put them in the refrigerator for four to eight weeks to cold-stratify the seeds, watering when the medium feels dry.

Take the pots from the refrigerator and remove the plastic. Set them on a warming mat or in a warm location. The seeds germinate about five weeks later. If both seeds in a pot germinate, remove the smaller of the two. When the seedlings are 3 inches tall, transplant them to 6-inch pots filled with garden soil and place them outside in a protected area. In fall, when they are about a foot tall, plant them in the garden or landscape.

Types of Barberry

Crimson Pygmy Barberry

Crimson Pygmy Barberry
Jason Wilde

Berberis thunbergii 'Crimson pigmy' is a popular dwarf barberry due to its exceptional dark red foliage and neat mounded appearance. The deciduous shrub attracts birds and grows 3 feet tall and wide. Zones 4-8

'Dart's Red Lady' Barberry

'Dart's Red Lady' Barberry
David McDonald

Berberis thunbergii 'Dart's Red Lady' offers dark purple foliage that brightens to shining red in fall. It grows 5 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-8

Golden Barberry

Golden sage
Marty Baldwin

Berberis thunbergii 'Aurea' features chartreuse leaves that cover the slow-growing shrub for season-long color. It grows 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Zones 5-8

Nevin's Barberry

Nevin's Barberry
Denny Schrock

Berberis nevinii is a rare barberry that deserves more attention. Nevin's barberry grows 6-10 feet tall and has bright yellow flowers in winter and spring. It makes a great impenetrable hedge or a nice covering for dry slopes. Zones 9-10

'Mission Canyon' Oregon Grape

'Mission Canyon' Oregon Grape
Denny Schrock

Berberis aquifolium 'Mission Canyon' is a spreading evergreen shrub that grows 2 feet tall and spreads to about 6 feet wide. It is a tough, hardy selection that makes an excellent groundcover. Zones 7-10

Garden Plan for Barberry

Low-Water Garden Plan

Low-Water Garden Plan
Janet Loughrey

No matter where you live, it's inevitable that plants will take defeats in the middle of July. Count on this easy-care garden to stay looking good through dry spells.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does barberry look like in winter?

    Barberry shrubs are either deciduous or evergreen. Deciduous barberry shrubs lose their leaves in winter, while robust evergreen shrubs go through a range of fall and winter colors as their leaves turn orange, red, or deep burgundy.

  • How fast do barberry shrubs grow?

    Full-size barberry shrubs grow up to 3 feet during their first year in the landscape, whereas small varieties grow about a foot. Even if you cut the shrub back to the ground in the winter, it rebounds in spring at this rate.

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