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Shrubs With Reddish Leaves & Thorns

By Amber Kelsey ; Updated September 21, 2017

Many gardeners plant shrubs to add accent color to the landscape or to use as privacy screens. Gardeners selecting shrubs should consider various factors, including their U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Hardiness Zones and the soil conditions. Other considerations include foliage color, thorns, and potential disease and pest problems. Several shrub varieties bear reddish leaves and thorny foliage.

Japanese Barberry

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is a compact, deciduous shrub belonging to the Berberidaceae family. Native to Japan, this barberry variety grows well in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8. Mature Japanese barberry plants reach between 3 and 6 feet in height with spreads ranging from 4 to 7 feet. Small clusters of light yellow flowers bloom in April and May, followed by red berries in the summer. The oval, bluish-green leaves turn red in the autumn, while the branches bear sharp thorns. This shrub needs well-drained soils in fully sunny locations. Root rot, rust and wilt occasionally affect these plants. This shrub works well as hedges, borders and barrier plants. The Japanese barberry shrub is considered an invasive plant in eastern regions of North America.

Prairie Rose

The prairie rose (Rosa setigera) is a deciduous shrub in the Rosaceae family. Native to the prairies of North America, this shrub does well in USDA zones 5 to 8. This spreading rose bush variety grows 6 to 12 feet in height with a spread ranging from 8 to 10 feet. The fragrant, June-blooming flowers emerge with pink petals that fade to white. This thorny shrub needs wet soils in partially shady to fully sunny planting sites. The green leaves and stems turn dark red in the late fall. The prairie rose is susceptible to black spot and rust diseases. Aphids and borers occasionally infest these plants. The prairie rose works well as an informal barrier, shrub border or hedge.

Angelica Tree

Angelica trees (Aralia elata) are large, deciduous shrubs or small trees in the Araliaceae family. Indigenous to Asia and Russia, this shrub is winter hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9. The Angelica tree typically reaches heights between 12 and 18 feet in home gardens. The thorny stems bear large green leaves that turn red-purple shades in the autumn. White blossoms flower in August, followed by black fruit clusters that ripen in the summer and fall. This shrub prefers moist, humusy soils in partly to fully sunny planting sites. The angelica tree sometimes attracts mealy bugs and aphids. Handling the roots and bark causes allergic reactions in some people. The Angelica tree works well in woodland margins and remote areas where people won’t come into contact with the thorns.

Japanese Rose

The Japanese rose (Rosa rugosa), an upright shrub belonging to the rose family (Rosaceae), grows 4 to 6 feet in height with slightly smaller spreads. Fragrant, white flowers abundantly bloom from June through August. The thorny, green foliage turns red in the autumn. Winter hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8, this shrub needs moist soils in fully sunny to partly shady locations. Common diseases include rose rosette and powdery mildew. Spider mites and rose midges often feed on this shrub. The Japanese rose bush works well as a hedge or a border shrub.

Maria Japanese Barberry

The Maria Japanese barberry shrub (Berberis thunbergii) typically thrives in USDA zones 4 to 9. This thorny shrub matures to heights between 3 and 4 feet with a similar spread. The Maria Japanese barberry displays small, light yellow flowers in April. This variety bears bright yellow leaves that turn vibrant orange-red in the fall. This barberry shrub does well in dry, well-drained soils and fully sunny planting sites, but is somewhat vulnerable to rust, root rot and wilt diseases. The Maria Japanese barberry shrub works well as borders, hedges, edging plants and foundation plants.