This tough shrub has gorgeous foliage, but it has become invasive in many parts of the country so plant responsibly.

Barberry Overview

Description 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).
Genus Name Berberis
Common Name Barberry
Plant Type Shrub
Light Part Sun, Sun
Height 3 to 8 feet
Width null to 7 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

Colorful Combinations

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.


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.

More Varieties of Barberry

Crimson Pygmy Barberry

Crimson Pygmy Barberry
Jason Wilde

Berberis thunbergii 'Atropurpurea Nana' is one of the most commonly grown types. It offers purple foliage through the summer that turns bold red in fall. It grows 3 feet tall and wide. (Zones 5-8)

'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 Plans for Barberry

Summer-Blooming Front-Yard Cottage Garden Plan

Illustration of garden plan
Illustration by Helen Smythe

Create charm and curb appeal in your front yard with this lush, beautiful cottage garden plan.

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.

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