Barberry Berberis Planting and Pruning

Barberry Berberis Planting and Pruning


(Ber’beris). Hardy and tender evergreen and family, Berberidaceae. They are widely distributed leaf-losing shrubs which belong to the Barberry in the Old and New Worlds, and are particularly abundant in China. Although some Bar-berries are renowned for their beautiful and fragrant flowers, others are more attractive when covered with brightly colored fruits later in the year. The name Berberis is derived from the Arabic, berberys. A peculiarity of all the Barberries is that three spines are found at the base of each growth bud.

The common Barberry, Berberis vulgaris, bears very showy, scarlet berries, but unfortunately, this shrub, as well as certain other kinds, is the alternate host of the rust disease of wheat, and must therefore not be grown in wheat-growing regions.

Planting and Pruning

These shrubs thrive in a wide range of soils from sandy loam to clayey loam; therefore, they may be expected to succeed in any ordinary garden ground. Evergreen kinds are best planted in spring, others in fall or spring. They grow naturally into shapely bushes and regular pruning is unnecessary. When the bushes have grown too large for their positions they may be cut back as soon as the flowering period is over. Although some kinds withstand moderate shade, the best results are obtained in sunny positions.

Good Hedge Shrubs

Several kinds of Berberis make very good informal hedges, notably B. Darwinii, B. stenophylla, B. Thunbergii, B. Julianae, and B. Wilsonae Stapfiana. They require one annual clipping which should be done as soon as the flowers have faded. The dwarf forms of B. Thunbergii known as minor (Box Barberry) and Red Pygmy make good low edgings.

When to Sow Seeds

Propagation is generally by means of seeds, which are sown as soon as ripe or in early spring in a cold frame in flats or pots filled with sandy soil. The young plants are pricked off into flats or singly in small pots when they are large enough to handle, and eventually are planted out in a nursery border. Seeds may also be sown directly outdoors in a prepared bed in a shady position. Because Bar-berries hybridize freely seeds collected from plants growing near other kinds of barberries often produce hybrid progeny.

When to Take Cuttings

Varieties that do not come true from seeds, as well as other kinds, are increased by cuttings of short shoots, 3 or 4 in. long, taken in July or August, and dibbled in a bed of sand or of sand and peat moss in a cold ‘frame. They take about 6 months to become well enough rooted for transplanting. Sometimes suckers are detached from large plants and planted to form new bushes.

Evergreen Barberries

Those barberries that retain their leaves through the winter are among the most handsome of evergreen shrubs. Berberis Darwinii, an erect, handsome bush, often 6-8 ft. but sometimes 12-18 ft. high, has small, lustrous, dark evergreen leaves and orange-colored fragrant flowers during late April and May; the fruits are dark purple with a gray-blue bloom. It is a native of Chile. B. stenophylla is the offspring of the last-named crossed with another Chilean shrub, B. empetrifolia; it grows at least 8 ft. high and develops into a dense shrub composed of long, slender branches clothed with narrow, dark evergreen leaves, and in May bears a profusion of golden-yellow flowers.

A comparatively new Chilean Barberry is B. linearifolia, which resembles B. Darwinii, but has larger flowers of richer coloring. The orange-flowered B. cologensis, a hybrid between B. Darwinii and B. linearifolia, is showy.

Berberis pruinosa, from southwest China, is very vigorous, growing 12 or more feet high; although a coarse shrub, it is handsome when bearing its yellow flowers in May and again later, when laden with blue-black fruits. B. Hookeri is a shrub, 3-6 ft. high, with leaves dark green above, silvery beneath, yellow flowers, and almost black fruits. B. Wallichiana is a similar shrub with leaves green on both sides. Both grow wild in the Himalayas. None of these Barberries is generally hardy North.

The Hardiest Evergreens

One of the hardiest evergreen Barberries is Berberis Julianae from China. It grows 6 ft. tall, has yellow flowers, blue-black fruits, and is a thorny shrub; B. triacanthophora, hardy to southern New England, is 3-5 ft. high and attractive; B. Gagnepainii, 6 ft., has yellow stems and narrow leaves; B. Sargentiana, 5-6 ft., is hardy to about New York City; B. buxifolia, from southern Chile, under favorable conditions grows 8-10 ft. tall and is about as hardy as the others here mentioned. B. candidula is a dwarf Chinese kind; B. Chenaultii is a good hybrid between B. verruculosa and B. Gagnepainii. One of the best evergreen Bar-berries is B. verruculosa, a low-growing evergreen of compact growth which reaches a height of 2-31/2 ft. after many years’ growth; it bears yellow flowers and blue-black fruits and is suitable for the higher parts of the rock garden. It was introduced in western China in 1904. B. mentorensis is an evergreen or semievergreen kind, a hybrid between B. Julianae and B. Thunbergii; it stands heat and dryness well.

The Red-fruited Barberries

B. Wilsonae is a dense shrub, 3 ft. high with very spiny branches and small leaves that fall in winter; the flowers are yellow, but the coral-red fruits in autumn are its chief attraction. Its variety Stapfiana is somewhat similar, but more vigorous and is also very beautiful in autumn and winter by reason of its red berries. B. Wilsonae subcaulialata is also a good red-fruited kind. These are of Chinese origin.

Berberis Thunbergii, a Chinese kind, is particularly beautiful because of the rich scarlet and orange coloring of the leaves in autumn. It grows 5-6 ft. high and bears ‘yellow flowers and red fruits. The variety atropurpurea has purple foliage; minor is a good dwarf shrub for a rock garden, and a thornless variety has been patented. Other useful kinds are B. dictyophylla from southwest China; B. rubrostilla (regarded as a hybrid between B. Wilsonae and B. aggregata), valued for its colored fruits; B. aggregata, a Chinese shrub, 6-9 ft. high, bearing handsome red berries; B. concinna, a dwarf leaf

losing shrub, with attractive leaves, silvery on the underside; and B. polyantha, a large leaf-losing shrub from western China, which is conspicuous for its large clusters of yellow flowers and red fruits. There are also numerous handsome hybrid Barberries of garden origin.

The Mahonias

One section of Berberis, which consists of evergreen kinds with large leaves divided into several segments, is now correctly named Mahonia, which should be consulted for particulars.

The shrubs are often grown under the names of Berberis Aquifolium, B. Fortunei, B. japonica, B. nepalensis and B. repens, are Mahonias.

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    Eliza Llenza

    What climate can they grow in??? Iive in the Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico. Are seeds available?

      Frederick Leeth

      They might be able to grow in your zone.
      USDA Hardiness Zone: 3 to 7
      AHS Heat Zone: Not defined for this plant
      Light Range: Part Shade to Full Sun
      pH Range: 5 to 8
      Soil Range: Some Sand to Some Clay
      Water Range: Normal to Moist

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