Many of us have a love-hate relationship with this plant. Love
the dependable bright color foliage and neatly mounded habit of the
dwarf varieties (Berberis thunbergii 'Crimson Pygmy',
'Gold Bar', etc.). Love the species' generally pest-free nature and
ability to tolerate heat and drought. Hate the thorns... and some
other things that are topics for another day.
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So we love to cut this shrub back hard and see the strong new
shoots with especially colorful leaves. But hate to handle the
Thin often or cut back entirely
We either thin the plants regularly (ugh, that's where the
hate-to handle comes in to play) or simply cut the whole plant hard
every 4 or 5 years.
Right, top: Can you see where a branch was removed? Probably
not, even though (right, below) we took out a sizable limb. That's
the point of thinning, to keep removing older wood so light reaches
the interior and stimulates new shoots. We hate having to reach
into the middle to make this cut but love the results.
In the second option, complete cut back, since no branch ever
ages beyond 4 or 5 years there is much less accumulation of old,
dry twigs with particularly prickly thorns. (For a better
appreciation of the various barberry species' armory and
explanation of their abillity to weather such a hard cut as we give
them here, read Barber a Barberry from
What's Coming Up 136.)
Our preferred time for thinning or cutback is late March or
early April just before new growth would begin. However, if the
plant's well established and healthy we can cut it almost any
Full- and mid-sized barberry varieties grow back very quickly,
producing straight stems 36" or longer the first year. In year two
and beyond the shrub's overall expansion slows as those first
shoots branch. The dwarf forms have a lower annual growth rate so
they reclaim their space more slowly. We don't mind watching as
it's healthy, pretty growth.
Tie and bundle before cutting to avoid pricks
To avoid being impaled while cutting, we pre-bundle a barberry.
• Tie a strong cord around a cluster of branch bases, then
• Walk round to wrap that cord around the shrub,
• Cinch the cord tight; tie it to another branch if you need to
• Walk and wrap it again and cinch it, etc.
• Finally, lop the stems just above ground level.
Below: Tie to bundle, then cut, clockwise from upper
Above, left: All we leave are clean cut stubs about an inch
Please note: If these photos don't guide you adequately
through the how-to, we apologize and hope you'll hang in there with
us. We photograph as we do the work that pays our bills.
We can't afford to wait until clouds come and eliminate
harsh shadows, nor can we scout for and shoot only plants with the
perfect backdrop for visibility. We always look for those ideal
situations and when we find them, we replace and update. We also
accept photos from others, and reprint them with your copyright. So
if you happen to have one of those perfect examples that's also
perfectly photogenic, please share them to
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