Barberries have a lot to offer: bright flowers, edible berries and often a great fall color. This is how you put the thorny all-rounders in the garden correctly.


The Barberries (Berberis), also called sour thorns, are a large genus of plant with around 500 species. They belong to the barberry family (Berberidaceae), of the Mahonias and . The species are distributed on every continent except Australia; most are found in East Asia. They grow almost exclusively in the temperate and subtropical climates.

Since it acts as the winter host of the grain rust, its horticultural use was forbidden for several decades and in the wild it became almost extinct.

Berberis julianae

The evergreen Berberis julianae bears dark purple fruits in fall

Appearance and Growth

Barberries are small to medium-high, deciduous to evergreenshrubs with small, mostly elongated or egg-shaped leaves. They form very dense, often overhanging crowns and their long, thin shoots are covered with more or less long, very pointed thorns. The bark of the branches and twigs is usually light gray, the wood is relatively brittle and has a striking yellowish hue. Deciduous and some wintergreen species often have a beautiful yellow to bright red fall colors. Sometimes evergreen Barberries also change color over the winter. Their greatest advantage, however, lies in their year-round dense foliage - privacy and wind protection are guaranteed all year round.

yellow flowers of the Barberries

The yellow flowers of the Barberry are insect magnets in the true sense

The flowers are relatively small and yellowish and loved by insects. The fruits are small, spherical to egg-shaped berries with a bright red, purple or almost black outer skin. They are edible and also very popular with birds.


When ripe, the berries of the Barberries look particularly decorative. They are on the shrub well into winter

Location and Soil

Barberries prefer predominantly sunny locations, but also grow well in shady locations. The evergreen species and cultivated forms should be in full shade to partial shade, as their leaves can be damaged in winter by frost and strong sunlight. Barberries is not demanding on the soil as long as it is permeable and not too humus. They grow well on cultivated, moderately dry to moderately moist, acidic to alkaline garden soils.


Since barberries are usually sold in pots, they can be planted throughout the season. For the evergreen species, however, spring and early summer are the more suitable planting periods. Planting in fall is not advisable, at least in sunny locations, otherwise there is a risk of severe leaf damage in winter. When planting, you should enrich humus-poor sandy or loamy soil with leaf compost.

Fall colors

In fall the leaves of Thunberg's barberry turn bright red


Barberries are extremely easy to care for: As a rule, they do not need any fertilizer or additional watering if they have grown in well. It is a good idea to cover the root area with bark mulch so that the soil remains evenly moist and the weeds are effectively suppressed - especially with the lower species it is quite a task to weed out the unwanted plants from the crowns of the thorny bushes. When handling Barberries, it is best to wear thick work gloves with a rubber coating or special rose gloves so that you do not injure yourself because of the thorns.


If you have bought small plants, you should shorten the shoots by about a third to half as soon as you plant them so that they branch well. After this plant pruning, the bushes usually get by without any additional pruning. However, you can cut them back as far as you want to rebuild the crowns. Barberries are extremely easy to prune and reliably sprout from old branches.


Varieties such as the dark-leaved, vigorously growing Ottawa barberry ‘Superba’ also look good when planted as a stand-alone plant

As usual, topiary trees and hedges are trimmed once or twice a year with the hedge trimmer to the desired height and width.

Knot garden

Thunberg's barberry, here the ‘Atropurpurea Nana’ variety, is ideal for topiary. Here the red-leaved dwarf variety is combined with an edging Boxwood

Deciduous species such as Thunberg's barberry and boxwood-leaved Barberry are often used for hedges and borders. The wintergreen barberry is often used for greening areas or in cemeteries because of its evergreen foliage and the compact, broad growth.

The taller evergreen species can also be used for shaped or free-growing hedges. Because of their thorny shoots, all larger barberries are the ideal property fencing when it comes to warding off unwanted garden visitors such as stray cats. Also, these shrubs are important from an ecological point of view: They are a source of pollen and nectar to many insects, and birds prefer the taller species as cat-safe breeding grounds. The berries are an important source of nutrition for the feathered friends.

Barberry fruits

The corn-yellow to yolk-yellow flowers of the needle-leaved barberry (Berberis x stenophylla) are extremely decorative

In the public green spaces, Barberries are often planted as groups of trees as they are easy to care for. Particularly abundantly flowering species such as the needle-leaved barberry (Berberis x stenophylla) are also very attractive eye-catchers in standalone positions in flower beds and borders. Weaker species can be cultivated well in the containers and can tolerate short spells of drought, if you forget to water.

Tip for wild berry lovers

The fruits of the Common Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) are edible and rich in vitamin C. Since they taste very sour ("sour thorn") and the seeds should not be eaten, they are mainly used for jelly, mixed-fruit jams or juice. In the past, like lemon juice, Barberry juice was used as a folk medicine for fever and was used in the treatment of lung, liver and intestinal diseases. Less acidic and even seedless varieties are selected when cultivated for their fruits. We recommend the Korean barberry ‘Rubin’ (Berberis koreana). Their edible fruits are particularly large.

Dried Barberries

Dried Barberries go well with muesli or fruit salad

Dried Barberries can be found in Persian markets. They are often added to rice as a flavoring agent. Important: The fruits of other species are considered to be mildly poisonous. A poisonous alkaloid is also found in the bark and root bark of all Barberries.

Important Species and Varieties

There are around 15 species and hybrids of barberries that are important from a horticulture standpoint. The most popular are the Boxwood-leaved Barberry (Berberis buxifolia ‘Nana’) as well as several evergreens such as Berberis julianae, Berberis x frikartii and the snow barberry (Berberis candidula).

Blood Barberry ‘Atropurpurea’ and columnar barberry ‘Golden Torch’

A bright fall color is the big plus of the deciduous Barberries. The brown-red leaves of the Blood Barberry ‘Atropurpurea’ (Berberis thunbergii, left) glow carmine red. The yellow-green leaves of the Columnar Barberry ‘Golden Torch’ turn into a flaming yellow-orange

Also very popular with gardeners are the Thunbergs barberries (Berberis thunbergii), also called hedge Barberries, which also offer the greatest variety. Their squat round dwarf shapes stands out in a flower bed. Try out how a refreshing light yellow ‘Aurea’ sets accents or a dark-leaved variety such as the ‘Bagatelle’ works as an oasis of calm. The structure provider can be used as a boundary or as a stand-alone plant. With an ‘Atropurpurea Nana’ one reckons with two to three plants per feet. For tall hedges, the large Blood Barberry ‘Atropurpurea’ is frequently.

Berberis thunbergii ‘Powwow’

Deciduous species are particularly suitable as potted plants. The fall color of Berberis thunbergii ‘Powwow’ forms the backdrop for pumpkin arrangements. As soon as it freezes, however, you have to protect the root ball and wrap it up, for example, with bubble wrap

Like all Thunbergii shapes, it can be easily cut into shape and brings about a change with its ornamental fruits and fall colors. Japanese Barberries intensify the luminosity of their reddish-purple leaves towards winter. Flaming tones can be found in green and yellow-leaved representatives.


Barberries are relatively easy to propagate. In the nursery this is usually done with mildly lignified cuttings in early summer. Deciduous species such as the Ottawa barberry (Berberis x ottawensis), which grow vigorously, can also be grown from hardwood cuttings. Growing from seeds is also possible with the wild species, but is generally not preferred by hobby gardeners.

Diseases and Pests

The evergreen Barberries in particular are rarely affected by diseases. They are more likely to be eaten by the black weevil. Deciduous barberries often suffer from powdery mildew.

How did you like this Article?