How to Propagate a Barberry Bush
Barberries are popular landscape plants for a good reason: their yellow or purple foliage and graceful, arching stems provide both structure and outstanding color in a garden. If you have a beautiful specimen barberry (Berberis spp., USDA zones 4 to 10), you may want to add to your bounty and propagate additional plants.
Barberries are propagated through cuttings, rhizomatous shoots or by seeds. Birds easily spread the seed, but if you have a specific cultivar, plants that grow from its seed may not resemble the mother plant.
For this reason, it’s usually better for gardeners to take cuttings, which is a quick and straightforward process.
Some barberry varieties are invasive in certain areas of the U.S., so be aware of any regulations or guidelines in your location and of the variety of barberry shrub you have.
Some varieties of barberry plants are deemed invasive in some locations, particularly Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), which has overcome native shrubs in some states, including Iowa and Florida, along with Berberis vulgaris.
Stem Cutting Types
Three types of stem cuttings can be used to propagate new plants from deciduous, woody ornamentals (which barberry is). The type you should use depends on the plant. These are:
- Hardwood cuttings: As their name suggests, hardwood cuttings are taken from hard, mature stems. This is the state of a non-herbaceous plant—one that doesn't die back to the ground in winter during dormancy, usually in late fall, winter and early spring.
- Semi-hardwood cuttings: These cuttings are semi-hard from partially mature wood of the current season. They are taken after the new growth has appeared, the wood has become firmer and the leaves are full size. This usually occurs from mid-summer to early fall.
- Softwood cuttings: Brand new growth on woody plants is considered softwood. The stems are green and still pliable. They should snap when you try to bend them, and their leaves will be a combination of new leaves and mature leaves. This is usually from May to early July. These cuttings will be tender and easily damaged, but they root quickly.
The various types of barberry bushes can be propagated more easily using a specific type of cutting, so it’s important to know which plant you have, including the species and even cultivar, so that you can identify what type of cutting you should take and when to take it.
Taking Barberry Cuttings
Propagation via cuttings is simple, but following some guidelines improves your chance of success.
Choose the Right Wood
North Carolina State Extension provides an extensive list of woody ornamental shrubs and the recommended type of cutting for propagation. For barberry, the university recommends:
- Semi-hardwood cuttings: Mentor barberry (Berberis x mentorensis) and wintergreen barberry (Berberis julianae)
- Semi-hardwood or hardwood cuttings: Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
Before taking cuttings, sanitize your pruning shears. One way is to dip them in a mixture of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.
Choose Healthy Wood of the Right Size
Take cuttings of about 4 to 6 inches long. Choose wood from the upper part of healthy plants, and avoid stems with flower buds. Plan to take cuttings in the early morning when the plant has rested and has no heat stress.
Prepare the Cutting
A sterile soil mix that drains well is critical to avoid passing disease to your new cuttings. The ideal mixture is coarse sand, a 50/50 mixture of sand to peat, or a 50/50 mixture of peat to perlite.
Avoid using vermiculite because it tends to hold too much water and can create problems for the developing root system.
Many growers recommend dipping the cutting into a rooting hormone before popping it into the soil medium. While this is not required, it can aid plants in root development.
Remove any leaves from the bottom third to half of the cutting.
Plant the Cutting
Fill your containers with soil mix and insert the cutting deeply into the mix to about half its length. Make sure that you maintain the cutting’s original direction—don’t plant the cutting upside-down from the direction it had been growing on the mother plant.
The time before a plant develops roots varies widely, based not only on the variety of plant but also on the environmental conditions. After it roots, transplant it to a larger container rather than planting it directly into the garden, which will improve survival rates.
When the new plant is well-established with a robust root system and new growth, it is ready to move into the landscape.
- North Carolina State University: Plant Propagation by Stem Cuttings
- University of California Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County: Berberis - Barberry
- Iowa State University: Japanese Barberry Invasive Species Profile
- Penn State Extension: The Invasive Japanese Barberry
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Berberis Thunbergii
I garden in the Pacific North west, previously Hawaii where I had an avocado orchard. I have a Master Gardeners certificate here in Eugene, Oregon.