General gardening topics

Growing Berberis – Planting, propagating, pruning and growing guide

Last updated on April 27th, 2022

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Berberis, sometimes called Barberries might not be well known for drawing attention but they perform incredibly well when given the right growing conditions and there are so many different varieties, from dwarf evergreen varieties to larger deciduous ones.

This plant comes in a wide range of sizes and no matter the size you select, you will enjoy flowers come spring, followed by fruit in the autumn, and then foliage for the rest of the year if you have one of the evergreen varieties, such as Berberis Dawinii. The most common Barberries you will see, for example, the Berberis thunbergia grow up to 1.5 metres in height and spread.

Berberis make a perfect hedging or ornamental border plant if you choose a variety with striking foliage, such as Berberis ‘Harlequin’ with its variegated leaves.

Berberis darwinii and Berberis thunbergii

Berberis darwinii can be light pruned after flowering in spring to remove dead flowers
Berberis darwinii

There are two main types of Berberis, the first of which is the Berberis darwinii, a native of Chile and Argentina. This plant is an upright evergreen shrub that produces smaller, spiny leaves with yellow flowers and blue berries.

The second is the Berberis thunbergii, of which there are many varieties. These are the deciduous Japanese varieties and they have bright red foliage in the autumn and subsequent berries.

Attractive to birds and is a good choice for making a spikey hedge

No matter the variety you choose, birds will flock to the fruit so it’s a wonderful plant to consider if you are trying to bring wildlife to your garden and because it’s prickly it also makes a good intruder deterrent when grown as a hedge.

Planting Berberis

When it comes to planting you need to make sure you have the right location first and foremost. These plants grow in well-drained soil in just about any part of your garden. As mentioned they are great for using to form a hedge or create borders within your garden. The leaves on the Berberis darwinni are spiny whereas the stems on the thunbergii cultivars have thorns and this can help deter unwanted intruders as it is difficult for them to freely pass through a formal or informal hedge. You can also plant them directly in the ground or in containers.

If you decide to plant them as a specimen plant, make sure you add some fertiliser and have a generously sized hole in which to place the plant before you backfill and water it.

Berberis harlequin that is a deciduous variety. Prune in spring after flowering
Berberis thunbergii ‘Harlequin’

Berberis Care

There are evergreen and deciduous varieties of Berberis and when you plant them they only need light pruning on an annual basis to keep their shape, which is one of the reasons they make such a good hedging plant. If you plant your Barberries as a formal hedge you can prune them twice a year.

Remember though that if you prune them after flowering they won’t produce any berries so it’s recommended that you trim them in the winter so that you can enjoy the flowers and your local wildlife can enjoy the berries.

Berberis that have been planted as specimen shrubs rather than a hedge can be pruned as and when needed in winter by cutting away alternate stems all the way down to the base, a method called coppicing. This will help stimulate new growth in the spring, although it might delay flowering by one year so don’t worry if you go a year in between flowering. 

Berberis Darwinii Nana Ground Cover shrub in flower
Berberis darwinii Nana – perfect for groundcover


When to take a semi-ripe cutting

If you already have a Berberis plant growing in your garden and you want to enjoy more than one, you can propagate them from a sturdy and healthy plant. The best way to propagate is by taking semi-ripe cuttings, and these you can take between July and September.

How to take the cuttings

When taking these cuttings, you want to make sure that you properly disinfect the tools you are using beforehand and make sure they are sharp. You want cuttings that are between 10cm and 15cm in length, and as the name suggests, you want cuttings that are hard at the base and soft at the tip. This is the growth that is semi-ripe.

When you take your cuttings it is important you put them directly into a plastic bag and set them aside in the fridge or in the shade, somewhere it is cool whilst you prep everything you need to propagate your cuttings. Ideally, you want to be planting them straight away and you don’t want them to dry out. It is best that you take the cuttings after you have your containers filled with compost and ready for the cuttings.

Use root hormone to encourage rooting

Before you dip the cuttings into the hole, dab the bottom with rooting hormone powder to help the roots establish themselves. You also want to cut away any of the leaves on the bottom of the cutting until you have nothing but four leaves on top.

How to store your planted cuttings

Place them in the pots and then put these pots somewhere they have access to warmth and light but where they aren’t exposed to direct sunlight. Your container should have a plastic cover on them (such as a plastic bag or a plastic lid), making sure that the top doesn’t touch the plant itself or any of the leaves. In about one months time you should have strong enough roots to transplant them to a slightly bigger pot, if necessary, until such time as you can move them outside permanently.


You want to keep your eyes peeled for one pest, in particular, the Berberis sawfly. Small caterpillars are actually the larvae of the sawfly and they will strip your plant of all its leaves in a fast and devastating fashion as they grow. You should keep your eyes peeled for these between April and October and if you spot any of them, use organic or non-organic sprays to get rid of them immediately. If you leave your Berberis without fully eradicating the problem, they can strip your plant entirely of its leaves. 

Sawfly eating leaves in Gooseberry

Recommended Varieties

Berberis thunbergii ‘Bonanza Gold’
  • Berberis darwinni compacta: This is a compact cultivar that produces small leaves with a red and bronze colour, and as they mature they turn green. The flowers take on a rich golden colour and produce berries thereafter that will attract birds into your garden. This shrub is perfect for creating a low-growing evergreen hedge or a mixed shrub border.
  • Berberis thunbergii: This cultivar is available in many varieties, with varying foliage colours from green to red and even some more unusual colour varieties. They are deciduous cultivars that are often spikey with small spines on the stems.
  • Berberis thunbergii ‘Bonanza Gold’: With golden leaves, this variety produces red berries come autumn and is great at brightening up a dark area of your garden.

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