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How to Trim Barberry Shrubs

By S.F. Heron ; Updated September 21, 2017
Snow-covered barberry shrub.
first snow image by Liga Lauzuma from Fotolia.com

Barberry shrubs add unique red foliage to the home landscape. The deciduous shrub might lose its leaves in the fall but it puts on a dramatic display throughout the summer growing season with richly hued leaves and branches. Thorn-covered branches provide plenty of shelter for birds and help this plant serve as an effective barrier hedge in the landscape. Barberry can tolerate severe pruning and responds with healthy new growth after a good trim. Perform regular maintenance pruning of barberry to keep this ornamental plant looking shapely and well contained in the home landscape.

Dress in clothing to protect your arms, legs and hands during the pruning session. Barberry shrubs feature thin thorns spaced every 1/2 inch or less along the length of every branch.

Examine the plant to determine areas requiring immediate pruning because of disease or dying foliage. Trim these areas first so you can more easily determine the next steps to take in shaping the shrub. Prune branches smaller than 1/2 inch with hand-held pruning shears and larger branches with the pruning loppers.

Make cuts at a 45-degree angle close to the main trunk or a connecting branch. Avoid leaving a stub since this invites disease and limits the plant's ability to heal quickly. To limit pruning in areas with extensive dead foliage, clip back to 1/4 of an inch above a healthy bud to encourage new branch formation.

Select various branches spaced evenly throughout the plant for thinning. Thinning opens up the center of the plant to increased sunlight. This pruning method allows the removal of some foliage while still retaining plant shape and size. Make all pruning cuts (if possible) flush with the main trunk of the plant and avoid leaving stubs.

Use the hedge clippers to control the overall shape of the plant. Barberry is a fast-growing shrub that may quickly become overgrown even after hedging. Create a healthier, fuller hedge by allowing the bottom portion of the shrub to remain wider than the top. This allows plenty of light into the interior of the plant and prevents the typical thinning foliage along the bottom seen with many shrubs.

Collect all discarded barberry foliage from the garden bed and dispose of it in yard waste bags. Barberry readily roots and can grow uncontrolled without careful cleanup after pruning sessions.


Things You Will Need

  • Thick gloves
  • Long-sleeved shirt
  • Long pants
  • Pruning shears
  • Pruning loppers
  • Hedge clippers (manual or electric)
  • Rake
  • Yard waste bags


  • Schedule pruning for early spring to help control new growth. It's safe to prune the plant during the growing season.