Barberry Shrub: ID Chart, Growing Barberry, Planting Tips Types of Barberry

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | March 28, 2024

Woman examines types of barberry bushes and wonders how to prune barberry and trim barberry bushes, why are barberry bushes illegal to plant, and how to identify barberry (red, orange, etc).

Barberry is a popular landscaping shrub for a number of reasons.

Its thick uniform growth makes it a popular hedging plant, which not only has lots of aesthetic appeal but affords a lot of privacy.

Its thorny nature makes it a great barrier plant, keeping away deer and other animals that may feast on your lovely garden.

The leaves change in the fall, giving your garden a beautiful pop of color during autumn.

Plus, Barberry shrubs are pretty low maintenance and thrive in a number of climates and soil conditions, and easy-to-care-for plants are typically a welcome addition to most gardener’s landscapes.

Important Note About Some Species of Barberry

One of the more interesting barberry facts is that the Japanese barberry and Common barberry are completely prohibited in a number of states,1 such as Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, Maine, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and West Virginia.

Seedless, ‘sterile’ cultivars of the plant have been developed in recent times and may be available to plant in some of these areas.

You may be wondering why are barberry bushes illegal in these areas. That seems like a pretty harsh designation for a mere plant!



Barberry in oval frame on green background.
  • Family: Berberidaceae
  • Genus: Berberis
  • Leaf: Typically oval with serrated or smooth margins depending on the species
  • Bark: Inner and outer bark are yellow
  • Seed: Each bush can produce thousands and are easily germinated
  • Blossoms: Six-petaled yellow flowers
  • Fruit: Red, yellow, purple, blue, or black berries, each containing several seeds
  • Native Habitat: Non-native species are native to Asia, American barberry is native to east North America
  • Height: From 3 to 15 feet, depending on the species
  • Canopy: Up to 6 feet wide
  • Type: Deciduous or evergreen depending on the species
  • Native Growing Zone: Zones 3-9, depending on the species

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


Image Credit: Alicja (_Alicja_)12

These invasive species of barberry basically take over any area in which they grow and damage the local ecosystem in a variety of ways. Nearby plants do not thrive as well due to issues like reduced sunlight and changes to soil composition.

These non-native species also appear to be tick magnets, which carry the very serious Lyme disease

Common barberry is also a host to a serious fungal disease that can threaten grain production in the country. Japanese barberry actually rose to prominence as an alternative to Common barberry because it did not carry this disease, but as you read above, it causes a number of other problems.

ID Chart: How To Identify Barberry

Barberry shrubs come in a number of species and while they generally have a similar overall appearance, there are some differences among them.

Barberry identification chart showing Barberry leaves, Barberry flower, Barberry bark/thorn, and Barberry fruits images in circle frames and the Barberry growing zone on a color-coded US map.

(Bark/Thorn and Flower Images: Florian Pircher (fill)13 and Big_Heart14)

Here are some general characteristics that help you identify them:

General Appearance

Barberry shrubs are thick, dense shrubs that may be anywhere from 3 to 15 feet tall.

Barberry Leaves

Leaves are generally in clusters of one to two inches with an oval shape. Some species’ leaves have smooth edges, while others have serrated ones.

Many have green leaves that change color in the fall.

Barberry Flower

Barberry species of all kinds have mildly fragrant six-petaled yellow or orange flowers with red tints that bloom in the spring.

Barberry Seeds and Fruit

Barberry fruits are small and egg-shaped, coming in a range of colors such as red, purple, black, blue, and yellow. Each fruit usually contains one to three seeds.

Barberry Thorns

Each stem node will have one to three thorns depending on the species

5 Types of Barberry

There are hundreds of species of barberry but here are a few that you would find commonly planted in the US.

1. Dart’s Red Lady

This species of barberry has dark purple leaves that change to brilliant red in the fall. It typically grows five feet tall and five feet wide.

The optimal growing zone is 5 to 8.

A golden barberry shrub with healthy dense foliage.

(Image: F. D. Richards8)

2. Golden Barberry

Golden barberry like its name suggests is covered with a golden yellowish-green color–or chartreuse if you want to be fancy–all season long.

This is one of the slower-growing types of barberry. It usually grows up to five feet tall and six feet wide.

Optimal growing zones are 5 to 8.

3. Nevin’s Barberry

Nevin’s barberry is prized for its bright yellow flowers that grow in the winter or spring.

It typically grows six to 10 feet tall.

The optimal growing zone is 9 to 10.

Low-angle shot of a tall Nevin’s barberry showing long stems with green leaves and lots of tiny red and orange fruits.

(Image: Glmory9)

Closeup shot of Mission Canyon Oregon Grape showing leaves with serrated edges and clusters of small yellow flowers.

(Image: Marina Yalanska10)

4. Mission Canyon Oregon Grape

This evergreen species of barberry only grows to about two feet tall, but spreads up to six feet wide. It is particularly hardy and tough, making it a good choice for ground cover.

Optimal growing zones are 7 to 10.

5. Crimson Pygmy Barberry

This Barberry shrub is very popular due to its deep red foliage and neat appearance. It is on the smaller side, only growing about three feet tall and 3 feet wide.

Optimal growing zones are 4 to 8.

Angled-shot of a Crimson Pygmy Barberry situated on dirt, showing a short shrub with small red and green leaves growing on thin stems.

(Image: Salicyna11)

Barberry Growing Zone

When it comes to where to grow barberry, this adaptable plant can be grown in a variety of areas and thrive in a number of different climate conditions.

As you can see from the above section outlining some popular choices, different shrubs may do better in different planting zones.

Generally speaking, they do best in zones 4 to 8. Some species may be able to withstand the colder temperatures of zone 3, while others may be able to withstand the warmer summer temperatures beyond zone 8 if they had ample shade.

So be sure to check the recommendations for the specific type you wish to plant in your outdoor space. You can find your hardiness zone here.2

Barberry Growth Rate

If you are wondering how long it takes to grow barberry, the good news is this shrub is a relatively fast-growing plant. Full-size varieties can grow a whopping three feet in their first year, while smaller forms will grow about a foot.

How tall a shrub will ultimately grow, and how long it takes to get there will depend on the particular type of barberry. Generally, they grow one to two feet a year.

Best Time To Plant

If you are interested in knowing when to plant barberry for the best yield, that would be during the fall. This gives the shrub ample time to develop its root systems before spring growth.

Best Growing Conditions for Barberry Bush

Here are a few important planting tips for barberry to get the healthiest, most beautiful shrubs.


Damp roots can seriously damage barberry shrubs so using well-draining soil is very important. One of the big draws of barberry is its ability to thrive in a variety of soil conditions,3 but the most ideal soil will have a pH of 6.0 to 7.5


The watering needs for barberry plants depend on whether it is a newer plant or a mature one that has been fully established. During the first growing season, you should water the bush once a week from the spring through fall.

If you have a deciduous variety, you will not need to water in the winter once it has gone dormant.

Maintaining moist soil is important but as mentioned before, the plant does not do well if overwatered and will be subject to root rot. If you see the leaves turning yellow at the tips, this is a sign of overwatering.

Once established and mature, barberry is among the drought-tolerant trees and bushes. They generally do not need watering unless your area is experiencing a prolonged dry period or very high temperatures.

Some signs the barberry bush may need a drink include dry, cracked soil around the plant and/or leaves drooping, curling in, or falling off.

Barberry bushes in pots may need more frequent watering since plants grown in containers tend to dry out more quickly than those planted in the ground. Check the first few inches of soil, and if it feels dry, give the plant a nice watering.


So how much sunlight does Barberry need each day? Barberry plants do best in full sunlight but can grow just fine in partial shade.

In fact, if you live in a very warm area, partial shade is actually preferable to keep the leaves from scorching.

Fertilizing Needs

Hardy plants like barberry shrubs typically don’t require much in the way of fertilizer, though adding a few inches of wood chips, straw or another form of organic mulch around a newly planted shrub may be helpful for retaining moisture in the soil and preventing weeds while the new plant establishes itself.


Knowing how far apart to plant barberry bushes is helpful.

If planting multiple bushes to form a hedge, space them about three to four feet apart. When planting anywhere, it is good to keep them at least three feet from structures and any other plants.

When To Trim Barberry Bushes

Barberry bushes don’t require much maintenance, and pruning doesn’t really play a significant role in maintaining the health of the plant. It would mainly be for aesthetic purposes.

The best time to prune is later in the spring or earlier in the summer. Do not start until the spring flowers have faded.

Pruning before this time may prevent them from developing, which would in turn prevent the berries they produce from developing as well. One pruning a year should be sufficient.

Do not prune when the plant has gone dormant in the winter. But, when it comes to dead or diseased branches, feel free to remove them any time you see them.

How To Trim Barberry Bushes

  • Remove broken and dead growth
  • Trim back damaged branches until you see healthy growth
  • Even out the wall of foliage by trimming the outer tips of branches to the same length
  • Remove uneven growth to keep the natural shape

Growing Barberry From Seed, Seedling, or Cutting

You can propagate barberry bushes with seeds or cuttings,4 with cuttings being the easier way. If you propagate with seeds, know that the shrub may not look like the parent plant, and you will need to expose the seeds to cold temperatures for an extended period to encourage germination.


Do not take a cutting of the tree until after the flowers have stopped blooming in the late spring or early summer. Make a six-inch cut from semi-hardwood right under the lead node. Semi-hardwood will come from current year growth that has started turning firm. Strip any buds or leaves from the bottom half and dip the cutting into the rooting hormone.

Place the cutting into a pot that contains a sterile rooting medium. Add water to the pot and put a clear plastic bag over it.

The cutting should root within four to six weeks. During this time, lightly spray the cutting occasionally to keep the mixture moist but not wet.

You can test its readiness by gently pulling on a leaf. If you feel some resistance, it is ready.

At this time you can remove the plastic bag and continue to let it grow in the container for about a year. Fall is the best time to transplant it outdoors.


  • The first step in propagating barberry from seeds is mashing the berries and placing them in water overnight to remove the pulp.
  • Remove any seeds that float to the top and place the rest on a paper towel to dry out. Be sure there is no pulp left on them
  • Place the seeds in 4-inch pots filled with moistened seed-starting mix. Place two seeds per pot about ½ an inch down and add some more water.
  • Wrap the pots in plastic, poking a few holes for air, and put them in the fridge for four to eight weeks. Water the mixture when it feels dry.
  • Remove the pots from the fridge and take off the plastic. Place them in a warm location and the seed should germinate in about five weeks.
  • If both seeds in the pot sprout, discard the smaller one
  • Once the seedlings reach three inches, place them in 6-inch pots filled with regular garden soil and put them outside in an area where they can grow safely
  • Once they reach about a foot tall, you can remove them from the pot and put them in the ground

Companion Plants For Growing Barberry

Knowing which plants to grow together has many benefits to your garden,5 from using space most efficiently to controlling insects to creating a more pleasing landscape. Here are some good choices for companion plants for barberry:


Barberry goes great with a number of perennial plants. Growing it along with daffodils can make for a lovely combination in the spring.

If you plant your shrub in partial shade, astilbe and hardy geraniums may be a good choice. The dark color of the barberry will go nicely with the blooms of these flowers.

If your barberry is planted in shady areas, some good companion plants include lady’s mantle and coral bells–these flowers both make excellent ground cover and suppress weeds.

In sunny spots, the wispy, fine texture of tall ornamental grasses creates a nice contrast with the dense branches of the barberry. Good choices include Muhlenbergia, pennisetum, and bluestem.

If you want to add some nice pops of color around your bushes, some good flowering plants include amsonia, false indigo, coreopsis, and catmint. These plants are also good at attracting pollinators.


There are lots of very colorful annual flowers that are great for highlighting and enhancing its beautiful foliage. Some good choices include deep pink or burgundy celosia, silvery-white dusty miller, or bright red pineapple sage.

The abundantly flowering alyssum is a good choice for ground cover.

Barberry in Containers

If your barberry is planted in containers, there are a number of plants that will look good with it. When planted in this way, it makes for a good neutral focal point.

Some good choices include coral bells, which also have vibrant foliage. Lamium and trailing petunias make for good spiller plants.

Plants Not To Grow

Plants that do not go well with barberry include those that are small, grow slowly, and/or bloom in early spring.

How To Stop Barberry Disease

When it comes to barberry disease prevention, the good news is this plant isn’t highly vulnerable to a large number of diseases and pests.

Fungal Diseases

Here are some of the common fungal diseases that affect barberries.

  • Verticillium Wilt

This fungal disease causes yellowing of the leaves and the shoots or even the entire plant to wilt.6 Eventually, the plant will die.

Other signs include brown discoloration of the water-conducting tissues in the wood. The fungus comes from the soil and will typically enter the plant when the roots experience injury during cultivation or transplantation.

The only real way to prevent this problem is to avoid the aforementioned root injury. If your barberry plant has died of wilt, you should not plant new shrubs in the same place.

  • Rust

You will see signs of this fungal disease in early summer by way of bright orange blister-like spots on the underside of the leaves.

Most forms of ornamental barberry that you would plant in your garden appear to be resistant to this fungus so you shouldn’t have to deal with it. It is more of a problem ‘in the wild’ where it can affect wheat crops.

Insect Problems

Some of the common pests of the barberry are as follows:

  • Barberry Aphid

Barberry aphids are small and yellowish-green. You will see large numbers of them on tender shoots and the leaves, sucking away at the sap.

Common treatments used to control them include insecticidal soap, imidacloprid, and malathion.

The malathion and soap should be sprayed as soon as you notice the aphids. The imidacloprid is applied to the soil to provide systemic control.

  • Barberry Webworm

Barberry webworms are black, white-spotted caterpillars that can damage barberry bushes by eating the leaves and making webs on the twigs. Adults turn into grayish-brown moths with about a 2-inch wing span.

They typically don’t do large amounts of damage and you won’t need to treat the shrub. But in the event of an infestation with the young caterpillars, appropriate treatments include the anti-parasitic spinosad or the bacterial agent Bacillus thuringiensis var kurstaki.

  • Twobanded Japanese Weevil

The female two-banded Japanese weevil feeds on the leaves of barberry bushes as well as a number of other shrubs such as azaleas and rhododendrons.

You can identify their presence by the crescent-shaped notches in the leaves. It comes in various shades of brown and is about 1/5th of an inch long.

Acephate is the recommended treatment for infestations.

  • Barberry Looper

Barberry loopers are the last type of pest you may see on your bush, and they bring trouble in the form of eating away at the leaves. Fortunately, they are not very common.

Treatments include horticultural oil, spinosad, and Bacillus thuringiensis var kurstaki.

This plant has a number of benefits for your outdoor space and its hardy, low-maintenance nature makes it a particularly good choice for even novice gardeners.Just make sure that it’s not prohibited in your state.

Whether you are looking for a plant to give you brilliant fall colors, keep away deer, or give you some privacy, the Barberry bush is the way to go.

Frequently Asked Questions About Barberry

How Many Species of Barberry Are There?

There are almost 500 species of barberry.

Do Barberries Have Medicinal Value?

According to the National Institutes of Health,7 barberry may have a variety of medicinal benefits, but more extensive research is required. It may be beneficial for gallstones, liver disease, diabetes, gallbladder pain, digestive diseases, and disease of the urinary tract.


1Abbey, T. (2022, December 12). The Invasive Japanese Barberry. Penn State Extension. Retrieved December 26, 2023, from <>

2U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2023). 2023 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. USDA | USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Retrieved December 26, 2023, from <>

3Gibson, M. J. (2023, June 28). Understanding Soil pH. Penn State Extension. Retrieved December 26, 2023, from <>

4The Pennsylvania State University. (2023). Barberry Propagation. Sites at Penn State. Retrieved December 26, 2023, from <>

5Hoidal, N. (2023). Companion planting in home gardens. University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved December 26, 2023, from <>

6State of Connecticut. (2023). Barberry (Berberis). Retrieved December 26, 2023, from <>

7Zarei, A., Changizi-Ashtiyani, S., Taheri, S., & Ramezani, M. (2015, Nov-Dec). A quick overview on some aspects of endocrinological and therapeutic effects of Berberis vulgaris L. Avicenna J Phytomed, 5(6), 485-497. Retrieved December 26, 2023, from <>

8Bonanza Gold Barberry 2012 Photo by F. D. Richards / Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA 2.0). Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. Flickr. Retrieved January 12, 2024, from <>

9Berberis nevinii4 Photo by Glmory / CC0 1.0 DEED | CC0 1.0 Universal. Resized and Changed Format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <>

10Photo by Marina Yalanska. Unsplash. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <>

11Berberis thunbergii Atropurpurea Nana Photo by Salicyna / CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED | Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International. Resized and Changed Format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <>

12Photo by Alicja (_Alicja_). Pixabay. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <>

13Photo by Florian Pircher (fill). Pixabay. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <>

14Photo by Big_Heart. Pixabay. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <>