Plant type: deciduous shrub
Zone: 4 to 8
Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is a dense, rounded, thorny shrub that grows slowly to somewhere between three to six feet high and slightly wider. Its green leaves emerge early in spring, in the fall turning orange, scarlet or reddish-purple in fall. Colors and size vary considerably among the cultivars. Tiny flowers appear under the foliage in spring and are considered ornamental (but can be in certain cultivars); red berries form in late summer and hold through winter.
Barberry makes a useful hedge or barrier planting; sometimes cultivars are used to spice things up in a landscape grouping.
This shrub is adaptable to a wide range of soils except for wet conditions. Give it full sun.
Note: In some parts of the country, Japanese barberry is invasive. Check with your local extension office to determine whether it's a problem in your area, and/or choose cultivars that are seedless or that are not deemed invasive. Where not invasive, Japanese barberry makes a tough, useful, multi-seasonal shrub.
'Gold Nugget'. Foliage is yellow-gold, turning orangish in fall. New growth is orange-yellow. A dwarf form, the mature height is usually no more than two feet. Produces few, if any, berries.
'Aurea'. Leaves are a very bright yellow in sun (becomes yellow-green in shade). Height is usually three to four feet. Produces few, if any, berries.
'Concorde'. Foliage is deep reddish-purple; grows very slowly to about two feet high by three feet wide. Produces few, if any, berries.
'Rose Glow'. New leaves emerge as mottled smoky-pink and reddish-purple, maturing to a deep rose-purple. Berries are orange-scarlet. Mature height is about five to six feet. Produces some fruit; check for invasiveness potential in your area.
'Sparkle'. Flowers are yellow and somewhat ornamental. The dark green foliage of summer turns a brilliant reddish-orange in fall. Berries are bright red. Produces some fruit; check for invasiveness potential in your area.