A large group of attractive, easy-to-grow, deciduous or evergreen shrubs. Loved for their abundant bright spring flowers, dense colourful foliage, and attractive autumn fruits.
Botanical Name: Berberis
Common Names: Barberry
Foliage: Spiny shoots, bearing small glossy evergreen or deciduous leaves. Often prickly.
Flowers: Clusters of small yellow or orange flowers in spring. Evergreens have small blue-black berries and Deciduous forms have red berries and brilliant autumn colour.
Flowering Period: Spring.
Soil: Moist but well-drained soil (chalk, clay, sand or loam). Acid, alkaline or neutral pH.
Conditions: Full sun, any aspect, exposed or sheltered.
Origin: Americas, Europe, and Asia.
Hardiness: Fully hardy in the UK.
Plant evergreens forms in the spring or autumn, and deciduous forms in the Winter. Berberis grow well in any ordinary well-drained soil, even poor impoverished soils. For a good show of flowers site them in an open, sunny site.
Berberis are useful versatile shrubs in the garden. Spiky evergreen forms make a good dense impenetrable hedge.
The flowers are attractive to bees and the winter berries are appealing to common garden birds.
Feed young or heavily pruned shrubs annually, in the spring, with a balanced fertiliser. Water well until established.
Little or no pruning is necessary unless the shrub has outgrown its allotted size. If so, evergreens can be pruned back immediately after flowering to keep their natural shape. Remove any dead or damaged wood from deciduous species in summer.
It should be noted that flowers form on old wood, so constant clipping can reduce flowering.
Susceptible to attack by berberis sawfly.
Most species can be grown from seed sown in the open in October. For hybrids and cultivars strike half-matured cuttings in a coldframe in July or August.
A wide choice of Berberis are available to suit all types of garden borders, specimen planting or for informal hedging. A good mix of sizes and forms can be found, from upright and rounded forms to prostrate spreaders. Sizes range form dwarf plants of 12-18in (25-45cm) height to tall specimens up to 7ft (2.1m).
Berberis aggregata (clustered barberry). Height and spread to 5f5 (1.5m).
Berberis 'Corallina Compacta' is a neat compact form, with coral-red buds opening to golden flowers. Height to 2ft (60cm).
Berberis darwinii has small holly-like leaves and orange flowers in spring. Height to 3ft (2m). The cultivar "Nana" is a fast-growing form that provides excellent ground cover. Bright orange-yellow flowers in April and May. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Berberis gagnepainii (Gagnepain's barberry). Hardy, compact, erect-growing evergreen. Height to 6ft (2m). Its long crinkled, dark-green, leaves are covered with abundant yellow flower-clusters in June, followed by black berries.
Berberis x ottawensis f. purpurea 'Superba' is
an upright shrub, with arching branches of lovely
purple/red leaves. Yellow flowers in spring, followed
red autumn berries.
Height and spread to 6ft (2m). Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Berberis x stenophylla (golden barberry) is one of the best hybrids. It has prickly, narrow evergreen leaves on arching stems and sweetly scented yellow-orange flowers in May. Height to 10ft (3m), spread to 6ft (2m). Propagate by cuttings or layering.
Berberis thunbergii (Japanese barberry) a compact variety with yellow flowers, attractive foliage in autumn and winter and a good display of berries. Height to 5ft, spread to (4ft) wide. A number of very good cultivars are available.
Berberis thunbergii 'Atropurpurea' has dark purple-red leaves that turn bright red in autumn. Pale yellow flowers appear in spring followed by glossy red berries. Available from Thompson & Morgan.
Berberis thunbergii 'Atropurpurea Rose Glow' has purple and pink foliage.
Berberis thunbergii 'Atropurpurea Nana' is a dwarf form with leaves that turn a rich red-purple in autumn. Height to 1.5ft (45cm).
Berberis verruculosa (warted barberry). A dense, compact, evergreen with glossy, dark green leaves. Golden flowers in spring followed by blue-black bottle-like berries. Makes an ideal hedge. Height to 6ft (1.8m).
Berberis trigona a medium-sized, hardy upright, evergreen with tiny shiny dark green leaves on arching shoots. Clusters of orange flowers in spring, followed by blue-black fruits in autumn. The cultivar 'Orange King' is one of the best early flowering forms. Available at Thompson & Morgan.