Barberry (Berberis) is a genus of about 400 species of shrubs. They are distinguished with their spiny branches and bright yellow interior wood. The flowers are generally yellow, appearing in spring, and the fruits are little red berries. Definitely the most frequent barberry species is Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), sturdy in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plant hardiness zones 5 through 8. It’s invasive and hard to control in many locations.
Barberry fruits are attractive to birds and tiny animals, who help disperse the seed, which has an very higher germination rate. The shrubs increase in size over the years — producing even more berries from the process. Plants regrow readily from root fragments as well. The best control is to avoid planting the species form. In many instances, however, barberry pops up on properties as the consequence of random seeding by birds. The best control starts with vigilance, particularly in backyard spaces and also the foundations of hedges.
Very young plants are easy to identify because of their small oval leaves and thorns. Young plants can be pulled or dug out of the ground, particularly when the ground is soft after rain. Larger plants can be cut to the ground, and the region should be covered with black plastic and a layer of organic mulch. This covering should be left in position for as long as you can. Watch for regrowth, pulling out any seedlings that appear close to the place of the parent plant.
Once barberry is under control, substitute alternative plants which are not as invasive. For a similar thorny shrub which could be used as a barrier or privacy hedge, try out the hedgehog rose (Rosa rugosa), hardy in USDA zones 2 through 9, containing fragrant individual or semidouble blossoms, thorny canes and big red fall hips. Equally showy and just as thorny, Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) comprises roselike spring flowers, long thorns and toothed, ovoid green leaves. It’s hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9.
Removing barberries, whether by pulling out young seedlings, digging older specimens or cutting the back back back to the ground before smothering, requires sturdy hand and arm protection, bcause repeated contact with spines can irritate skin. All areas of the plant, including the fruits, can cause gastric distress if ingested. Because of these issues, barberries, even those species and varieties charged as noninvasive or less invasive, aren’t suitable for use near places where children play.