Barberry pruning

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 plant.

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.)


When?... ever!

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 time.

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. That is:

• 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 prevent slippage,

• 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 left.

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Above, left: All we leave are clean cut stubs about an inch tall.

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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