Barberry Alternatives

By Charlie Nardozzi

Barberries are attractive landscape plants. Their thorns can repel deer and other animals, they spread quickly to create a protective hedge, they are widely adapted to poor soils, and they grow in part shade to full sun. The red berries are ornamental and also provide food for wildlife. But it's those berries that have caused problems. Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) has gotten a bad reputation because of its prolific seed dispersal. It quickly can become an exotic invasive, crowding out native shrubs. Birds eat and spread the seeds throughout its range.

However, not all barberries need to be shunned. Researchers at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, trialed 41 selections of barberry to determine which were the most invasive. Their results showed some Japanese barberry varieties, such as 'Concorde', 'Bonanza Gold', 'Kobold', and 'Golden Nugget' (pictured above), produce few or no fruits and seeds, so they can be safely planted in the landscape.

Another species of barberry to try is B. verruculosa with its dense, 4-foot-tall growth. It makes an excellent low hedge and doesn't produce flowers and fruits.

For more information on this research, visit the Longwood Gardens Web site.

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