Brighten Up Your Garden with Japanese Barberries

The deep-burgundy foilage of Japanese barberries provides rich colour in the garden

Paired with a bright perennial, the Japanese barberry adds a lot of pop to your garden

Q: I love the colour of barberries (Berberis), but are they recommended shrubs for the garden? I’m particularly concerned about them being prickly.

I once vowed never to plant anything prickly in my garden again, but admit to a fondness for berberis.

Berberis thunbergii, commonly known as Japanese barberry, is a dense shrub with spiny branches that can make it a difficult plant to get into the ground.

However, once it’s in, all you need to do is water it from afar. It enjoys almost any soil but hates wet feet, so a well-draining area is a must.

Japanese barberries provide rich colour in the garden – the deep-burgundy foliage of popular culivars like ‘Ruby Carousel’ and ‘Royal Burgundy’ stand out against the greens of conifers. Pair them up with lively perennials for a punch of colour. All red barberries turn brilliant orange-red in fall before their leaves drop. This show rivals that of the popular burning bush (Euonymus alatus). Get your camera out if there is an early light frost and the sun is shining.

After the foliage drops, the berries appear, usually in a bright red. They stay on for most of the winter, offering interest in the garden. Depending on the cultivar, you can expect to see about 60 to 120 cm (2 to 4 ft.) in height and spread.

Use Japanese barberry as a hedge, a stand-alone plant or combine it with contrasting foliage and flowers in a border. Plant it under windows to discourage intruders or use it as a barrier to deter deer from more tasty treasures. Just mind your manners around it, as it’s likely to grab you.

Originally published in BC Home & Garden magazine. For regular updates, subscribe to our free Home and Garden e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the magazine.