- Author: Marian I Chmieleski
Oh, what a glorious sight is my Japanese Barberry-- Berberis thunbergii 'Rose Glow' in the fall! I have several planted around my yard and their lovely arching branches are graceful in the garden at any time, but in the fall: WOW! They can be breathtaking. I'd say they are worth the trouble to grow, but they are really no trouble to grow at all. In fact, they grow vigorously, are not fussy about soil, can take extreme heat and cold and will reach heights of 4 to 6 feet in just a few years. Therein, however, can lie a bit of "trouble"--at least for the hesitant pruner like me. I tend to let things grow naturally until one day I notice that they are shading out the lawn, blocking the path, threatening to overtake the house....you get the picture. And the barberry, in all its loveliness, does have one other little issue. It has thorns. No, no like rose thorns. These guys have strong, slender needle-like thorns that can reach over half an inch in length. So pruning a barberry can be a dangerous sport.
With that in mind I finally had had enough. The one that would no longer allow us to use our nice, stepping-stone path had to go. I gingerly lopped off branches in short pieces trying to keep my legs, arms, neck and face away from the thorns. But the branches all weave together and it was difficult to disentangle what I'd just cut. And then picking up the cut branches from the ground was another painful issue. Ah-ha! I got out my pitchfork, whose nice long handle kept me safe as I finished my job. Finally, getting close to the trunk I took my husband's chain saw and took the whole shrub down to about 4 inches high. The plan was to have my husband then dig it out. Well, a year later the shrub had yet to be removed and, lo and behold, it sent out nice little arching branches that did not reach into forbidden territory. I decided I like it again.
So this year I'm addressing the other 3 gigantic barberries in my yard. Now that I know how tough they are I feel brave, powerful...unleashed! I'm shearing them all (long gloves, loppers and especially my pitch fork at the ready) and taking back my yard. And in November I will be so happy to see them glowing again in the autumn light.
My recommendation: Don't be afraid of the Japanese Barberry. Just be sure you prune it hard--and have a pitchfork handy!