General gardening topics

How to propagate Berberis by taking cuttings

Last updated on April 27th, 2022

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Berberis, or Barberries, can be great planted as specimen shrubs or used as hedging and offer a range of berries that are suitable for birds and other wildlife. With these plants, you want to prune them annually to stimulate the new growth on the different stems that are left behind, deadhead in some cases if you don’t want the berries to follow the flowers.

If you have a healthy shrub or you want to turn one or two plants into an entire row of plants, the fastest way to do this is to propagate them by taking cuttings, either hardwood or semi-hardwood cuttings.

Which variety do you have?

Before you begin propagating you need to know what variety you have. There are two main parent plants that you can have. The first is the Berberis darwinii, a native of Chile and Argentina. This is an upright evergreen shrub and it has smaller spiny leaves, yellow flowers, and blue coloured berries. It is often used as a groundcover plant too.

The second is the Berberis thunbergii which is the Japanese version. This usually has red or green foliage and berries, however, you can get more interesting varieties with yellow leaves and even variegated marbled leaves that offer bright red foliage in the autumn and subsequent berries.

Knowing which variety you have will help you determine which method is best to use. If you have the Japanese variety (which is deciduous) you want to use a hardwood cutting, however, if you have the darwinii variety you can use semi-ripe cuttings because it is evergreen. 

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

When to take cuttings

When to take cuttings from the Berberis darwinii

If you have the Berberis darwinii you want to use semi-ripe cuttings. These are cuttings that you want to take between the middle of summer, around July until the autumn, usually around September. You want to get the growth when it is semi-ripe when the bottom is hard and the tip is soft.

Two varieties of Berberis thunbergii

When to take a cutting from Berberis thunbergii

If you have Berberis thunbergii you want to use hardwood cuttings. These you take later in the season after the plant has lost all of its leaves and generally take less care. 

How to take cuttings 

Step 1

No matter what variety you have, the process of actually taking the cutting is very similar. You want to start by sharpening and disinfecting the tools you are going to use which can be secateurs or scissors. The tools you use need to be very sharp so that they can make a quick, clean cut and they need to be cleaned in between multiple cuts to make sure you don’t transfer any diseases.

Step 2

You want a cutting that is between 10cm and 15cm in length no matter the type of wood. When you take the cuttings you want to be sure you prepare them for propagation immediately. It’s best to propagate the cuttings within 12 hours of removing them from the parent plant, although it’s much better to plant them straight away. 

Following the basic method of cutting you want to cut just below a leaf and remove any of the bottom leaves so that you have about four leaves total left on top. 

Berberis harlequin that is a deciduous variety. Prune in spring after flowering

How to Propagate

Have pots that are suitably sized for the cuttings. This is because the cuttings can fail and not establish themselves, most gardeners like to take a handful or so, even if they are only propagating one plant. Then you can pick the strongest out of all the cuttings to continue with.

Step 1

Fill a container with an appropriate compost for cuttings or propagating, and after you have done this, and before you add your cuttings to the pots, dip the end of the cuttings into hormone rooting powder.

Step 2

Insert them directly into the middle of the pot. Firmly pack them in place and water well, allowing the water to drain through the container entirely.

Step 3

Then take all of the containers and put them either in a greenhouse or cover them with plastic, in the form of a plastic top, bag or cup to create a greenhouse effect and place them in an area that is warm with indirect sunlight, for example on a windowsill or inside a cold frame.

Berberis are evergreen and deciduous shrubs that can reach up to 5 meters tall if you let them depending on the variety but there are some ground cover types of both evergreen and deciduous. They boast a range of pink, rose, red, and even yellow and green-tinged displays which make for wonderful hedges or small bushes in any garden.

You want to keep an eye on these to make sure they don’t dry out but also don’t overwater them because they are susceptible to root rot at this stage. There are propagating kits you can purchase from your local garden centres, nurseries and even online that have equally matched bottoms and tops that give you control features over things like ventilation.

If you don’t want to invest in propagation sets you can always plant them in containers and then use items like chopsticks to make a tent around the cutting which holds up the plastic bags that you secure around the pot with something like string or a rubber band.

The new growth is going to be a little shy during that first year above the surface because the plant is putting most of its energy into establishing itself. After one full season has passed and your plant goes into dormancy again you should be able to remove it from the container and transplant it to its final home. You will notice the yellow roots very visibly through the drainage holes once you reach this stage.

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