Barberry bushes (Berberis thunbergii) are a popular landscape plant because of their ease of care and striking colored foliage and decorative berries. Although the typical red varieties are very nice, growers have developed variegated forms as well. One of the most popular types features a nice pinkish-cream and red variegation not often seen in plants.
Variegated barberries grow in a mounded shrub type form that reaches about 5 to 6 feet tall and about 5 to 6 feet in diameter. They have zigzagging twiggy branches covered with sharp thorns. The leaves are small and oval shaped about 1/2 inch to 1 1/4 inches long. The variegated leaves show up on new growth and are either red with cream colored stripes or green with white stripes and splotches depending on the variety. In late summer it develops small yellow flowers that last for about two weeks, then produces red berries. During autumn, the foliage falls off and the berries remain on the bare branches until spring.
Variegated barberries are very easy to care for. They like full sun to part shade and a well-draining soil. They do not like to remain in wet soil, but appreciate periodic deep root watering during the warmest months. They are very resistant to adverse conditions and can tolerate drastic pruning and shaping. They recover from being transplanted quickly. Barberries can be grown in USDA zones 5 to 8.
Variegated barberries are ideal for use as hedges or for borders. They can be planted in areas that do not receive regular irrigation and can tolerate a dry summer. They are not too picky about soil conditions and are very tolerant of urban environments, making them a good choice for roadsides, medians and public areas. The red berries on bare thorny branches add an interesting visual element in the winter when other plants have lost all of their leaves.
One of the most common types of variegated barberry is "rosy glow," sometimes spelled "rosey glow." The new growth has dark red leaves with splotches of pink or cream colored lines. As the leaves mature, they fill in solid dark red. The variegation is the most pronounced when grown in full sun.
The variety "variegata" has dark green leaves with white, yellow and gray stripes and speckles.
Variegated barberry bushes do not suffer from very many problems. They can be damaged if the soil remains too wet and they tend to not do as well in areas with higher humidity levels year round. If the leaves remain too wet they are susceptible to fungal infections. The thorns can be a problem if they are planted in high traffic areas such as near doorways or along footpaths.