Barberry bushes, also known as Pepperidge bushes, are sturdy garden shrubs well known for their wiry, thorny branches. Considered easy to grow and maintain, Barberry bushes are commonly used as natural barriers and border plants in gardens and landscaping throughout USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9. In fact, it is not uncommon to see Barberry bushes planted below windows for home protection purposes. Numerous varieties of Barberry bushes are available, featuring attractive ornamental foliage in a variety of colors depending on the variety of plant, from deep magenta all the way to light green. In spring, yellow blooms emerge from the Barberry bush, which later become red teardrop berries that remain on the plant well into the fall months.
Barberry bushes are available for purchase at most full-service home and gardening stores and nurseries. However, some varieties of Barberry are considered invasive in many eastern states, especially the Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii). Contact your state agricultural department before planting to make sure you are acting within local law.
When handling Barberry bushes, be sure to wear protective gloves. Thorns can be several centimeters long and are incredibly sharp. Plant Barberry bushes in areas that receive significant, full sun. Planting next to the home is okay, though the plants do not flourish if shaded too much of the day.
Plant the shrubs so that the top of the root ball is flush with the ground. To improve drainage and soil quality, mix organic mulch into the soil underlying the root ball. After filling in the hole with soil and tamping it down, spread at least two inches of mulch over the top to suppress weed growth and help retain moisture.
Barberry bushes prefer well-drained soil and do not tolerate standing water very well. The plants are quite tolerant to drought conditions and watering requirements are moderate to minimal. In the hottest summer months, the plants need to be watered a few times per month on average. It is a good time to water when the soil around the plant is dry to a depth of two to three inches.
Fertilizing requirements are minimal to none. Most experts advise an annual application of all-purpose fertilizer in the fall while the plant is relatively young. Well-established, mature plants do not require fertilization.
Barberry bushes require relatively little pruning in general, but are quite tolerant to it if needed. To maintain the shape of your Barberry plant or to remove dead branches, you can cut virtually any time. However, if severe pruning is required, it should be carried out in late autumn or winter, after the plant has finished fruiting.
Japanese Barberry cultivars are quite popular among home gardeners and landscapers. The Aurea has bright yellow foliage, which is great for providing color contrast in your garden. Rose Glow has a nice deep purple foliage that fades to rose as the summer stretches into fall. Quite large among Barberry bushes, the Rose Glow shrub may reach up to seven feet wide. Perhaps the most popular cultivar is the Crimson Pygmy, which is low, dense, and has, unsurprisingly, bright red foliage.