In landscape design, Japanese barberries are used as plantings against a foundation, grouped in threes as a focal point, or as a hedge, and even as a ground cover. The barberry is a compact shrub (can be deciduous or evergreen) with spiny branches--these razor sharp spines/thorns are one of the drawbacks of this plant. Care must be taken when working (planting/pruning) with the barberry.
The barberry is native to several areas: Japan, Europe, British Isles, China, Asia and the United States. It has a natural round form that becomes rather leggy as the plant matures. Barberries are known for their sharp thorns or spines, and gloves should be worn when working around the barberry (to avoid injury). Two popular varieties of barberry are the Crimson Pygmy (deciduous) and the Wintergreen (evergreen). The wintergreen reaches a height of from 6 to 8 feet, and the crimson pygmy reaches a height of 2 to 3 feet.
Diversity of Foliage
Foliage colors are what make the barberry stand out. They come in a variety of colors: crimson, burgundy, deep purple, soft yellow, gold, orange, and shades of green. These brilliant colors are present from summer through fall. In fall the foliage is even more spectacular. According to Northscaping "Rose Glow" is a new variety that has been introduced from Holland. They state," Not only does this variety have rich dark purple foliage all season long, but the new foliage is variegated in a mottled pattern of creamy white and pastel pink." In the fall the foliage of Rose Glow turns "hot red."
Ease of Growing
This shrub is easy to grow as it will tolerate most soil conditions as long as they are well-drained. Once established they will tolerate dry conditions. However, they should be watered during extreme drought conditions; otherwise you could see leaf drop and/or dieback. Barberries should be fertilized once a year (spring or fall) with a slow release plant fertilizer.
Barberries have a shallow root system, and mulching around the shrub will aid in moisture retention as well as keeping the weeds down. You should mulch the shrub with 2 to 4 inches of organic mulch (wood chips/bark). The mulch will break down and add to the organic composition of the soil. Make sure that the shrub is adequately mulched in the fall so that the roots are protected in the winter as well.
Pruning the Barberry
Very little pruning is required. The only reasons to prune the barberry are to remove dead, damaged, or diseased branches, and to maintain the shape of the plant. Dead or diseased plant material should be removed as soon as possible. You can shear lightly or pinch back any new growth to shape the shrub--this should be done in the spring (after bloom). The shearing or pinching back will encourage branching. If you have a barberry that has been neglected you can rejuvenate it by cutting back the thick woody stems (when dormant--late winter) to 3 to 4 feet from the ground. This will cause the shrub to develop new growth.