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The genus berberis counts hundreds of species, spread a little all over the world, in areas with a temperate climate, from Asia to North America, from Europe to the cool and mountainous areas of South America. It is therefore of various types of shrubs, depending on the species; generally small in size, they do not exceed 100-150 cm in height; the foliage is often minute, oval, and many species are deciduous. There are obviously many hybrids and cultivars, the most widespread having red foliage, from dark burgundy to cherry red, and they are decidedly small in size.
In spring they produce small golden yellow flowers, very showy, followed by small berries, red or black, edible; the taste of the fruits is very sour, as these fruits contain a lot of vitamin C; in many areas of Europe traditional liqueurs are produced, based on berberis berries.
The stems are very branched, and bear long, very sharp spines.
These plants are often used as hedges, also defensive, as with time they tend to become very thorny, creating an impenetrable barrier.

Berber cultivation is simple. They adapt easily to almost all soils and are also climate tolerant. The heat is rarely a problem and the cold does not damage the plant to at least -20 ° C.It bears pruning very well, which makes it ideal for creating formal hedges of different sizes, even with excellent defensive qualities. They are very suitable subjects for urban gardens as they have proved very resistant to pollution.The small varieties find good locations also in mixed borders, where they exalt the surrounding blooms, or used as potted specimens.The most widespread and cultivated Berberis are berberis vulgaris, a plant of European origin, with oval foliage and red berries, known in Italy also as Crespino; and the Berberis thunbergii, and the many hybrids derived from it, with purple, red, yellow, light green, carmine foliage. This species is of Asian origin, has small, deciduous leaves and red berries.Both plants are easy to find in any well-stocked nursery, although it is much easier to find small sized specimens.These shrubs are used predominantly to form hedges or borders, although they can look good even if grown as single specimens, or in the mixed border, especially with regard to varieties with particular foliage.They are located in a bright and sunny position, with at least a few hours of sunshine every day; they can survive even in the shade, but over the years the color of the foliage tends to deteriorate if the plant does not receive the right insolation, and we will find ourselves with a berberis of ever darker and duller colors.We use a good universal soil, mixed with little sand or pumice stone to increase drainage, and manure to enrich it. We plant our Berbers in preference in autumn, we will be sure of enjoying the full flowering the following spring.THE BERBERIS IN BRIEFFirst name Berberis spp, family berberidaceae, more than 500 speciesType of plant Shrub or saplingFoliage Persistent or semi-persistentHeight From 30 cm to 5 mMaintenance easyWater needs Medium-lowGrowth slowRusticitа Up to 20 ° CExposure Sun, half-shadeSoil Poor or stony, tolerantPh From subacid to subalcalinePropagation Seed, cutting, offshootBerberis young

The young plants, recently home or cultivated in pots, need to be looked after also for what concerns watering; these do not like excess watering, but if they have recently settled down they cannot withstand prolonged drought and arid climate. It is therefore necessary to water the young plants in good weather so as to avoid leaving the soil completely dry for long periods of time. The plants that have been planted for a long time tend to be satisfied with the water supplied by the weather, although in the summer they may need sporadic watering. If there is no water for very long periods, the foliage tends to collapse, in these cases it will be necessary to water it abundantly, avoiding any stagnation, and without leaving the plant with the soil soak it for days and days.

Prune flowering shrubs

The berberis tend to develop in a rather disordered way, with some branches that develop a lot, coming out from the crown; for this reason it is often necessary to intervene with a training pruning, especially if our shrubs have been planted to form a hedge, which without pruning will quickly assume a disheveled appearance.
We always remember that in nature the plants are not pruned, and their life cycle is not suited to programmed pruning; we often see budding gardeners who prune the entire garden at the end of winter, to prepare it for the well-ordered and clean future spring.
Unfortunately many flowering plants prepare the buds on the branches of the previous year, and a pruning practiced in winter goes to remove most of the future pruning; on the other hand, a pruning carried out immediately after flowering will remove most of the fruits, which if they are edible, as in the case of berberis, cannot be consumed.
So, when we go to prune a shrub in the garden, before practicing random cuts at set times of the year, let us know how and when our plants bloom. Forsythia, Judas tree, Calicanthus, Berberis bloom on the branches of the previous year, it is therefore necessary to prune them only after they have bloomed, on pain of the removal of most of the buds.
Roses and spiree bloom on new branches, so pruning in late winter promotes the production of new branches, and therefore a more abundant flowering.
The berberis have a fairly slow development, so it often happens that they are not pruned in any way for a few years; the prunings will have to be done only to shorten the rebel branches, which have gone to develop very much outside the foliage, possibly in autumn, after having enjoyed flowers and fruits.

Characteristics of the berberis

Berberis vulgaris, the most widespread spontaneous in Italy, is a shrub or small thorny tree that can reach 3 meters in height. It is widespread in the Alps, at altitudes between 200 and 1800 meters, on poor and sunny slopes.
The leaves are semi-persistent and leathery, of a beautiful bright green. Between spring and summer, it produces clusters of yellow, melliferous flowers on the oldest branches. In autumn there is the production of oblong fruits, of a beautiful bright red and sour taste, used for the preparation of jams. In other species the berries also decline in pink or dark blue.
The name berberis derives from the Arabic and means "shiny" "brilliant", referring to the polish of its leaves.

Exposure and terrain

The species with persistent foliage like at least partially shaded exposure: above all the dark red ones, in fact, run the risk of sunburn, particularly in the Center-South of our peninsula. They are also slightly more sensitive to cold: it may happen, in fact, that the new jets are damaged by late frosts. It is not the case, however, to be alarmed as the damage will be quickly erased by a new regrowth.
Semi-persistent varieties are generally even more resistant to these variables. They love the sun: in a luminous and sunny position they bloom profusely and the coloring of their foliage is livelier.
The terrain is almost never a problem. They tolerate poor, calcareous, sub-alkaline or sub-acid substrates well. Only some species have special needs, such as the darwinii and the thunbergii.


Potted plants can be planted both in autumn and in spring. The first option is however preferable given that it will give the plant time to develop the hypogeum apparatus before the arrival of the beautiful season: it will therefore obtain greater vegetative growth already from the first year.
The ideal is to choose small specimens that generally exceed transplant stress faster. The distance between one individual and another is usually 40-100 cm, if we want to obtain a hedge, and can vary significantly from one species to another.
We work using thick gloves and clothing to protect us from sharp spines.
We create deep and wide holes at least twice the earth bread and insert a little well-decomposed manure on the bottom. Place the shrub and fill it with the soil, compacting well and irrigating abundantly.
We then cut all the branches leaving only about ј of their initial length. In this way, in spring, we will obtain branched and dense specimens.

The berberis calendar
Planting September to November / February to May
Flowering From March to June (depending on the variety)
Fruit harvest November December
Containment pruning Light after flowering (June)
Maintenance pruning (for hedges) At any time of the year

Care and maintenance

The maintenance of these shrubs is really modest. If you wish, you can put into practice some tricks that will make our specimens even more decorative and vital.
Evergreen species benefit from abundant winter foot mulching. Towards the middle of November we can distribute a good amount of straw, leaves and dry grass that will contribute to the protection of the roots.
This technique can also be useful when spring arrives to keep the soil moist and fresh for longer, especially if we live in urban areas or in the Center-South.
Once a year, possibly in autumn, we distribute a good dose of mature manure that will make the soil richer and the minerals more available. In spring it is also possible to give a minimum amount of synthetic fertilizer.
Irrigation is necessary only in the event of prolonged drought, especially in the central and southern regions. You can intervene every 15 days. The species most sensitive to the dryness of the soil are the evergreen ones.


Pruning is not absolutely necessary for berberis grown as isolated specimens or within borders.
If you really want to make a cut it is good to intervene after flowering and with extreme lightness so as not to compromise the decorative fruiting.
If we want to stimulate the emission of jets from the foot we must instead practice severe pruning, in winter, aware however that this will result in the loss of flowering for at least two years.
On the hedges, to maintain the desired shape, you can intervene at any time.


New seedlings can be obtained by seed, layering or cutting.
The first way is the longer one, since germination requires vernalization and the seedlings grow rather slowly.
The cutting is faster, however: it is done in August, taking semi-woody branches (for evergreen species). Instead the deciduous ones multiply more easily at the end of spring, using apical segments, still totally herbaceous.
In both cases they will be placed in a very draining substrate, often humidified and kept in the shade until the roots are evident. Afterwards they can be transferred to a vase and the following year to permanent residence.

Pests and diseases

They are very resistant shrubs and rarely get sick. However, infestations of aphids or rust attacks can occur. This is prevented by not leaving the foot too moist.

Berry harvest and medicinal uses

The berries can be harvested at the beginning of winter. They can be used for the preparation of jams or jellies or, when pickled, they are an excellent accompaniment to fish.
Berberis extracts appear to be effective in controlling cholesterol.



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Deciduous leaves
B. thunbergii f. atropurpurea
September to November / February to May

Bright red foliage in autumn Low hedge or isolated specimen
B. thunbergii f. atropurpurea 'Bagatelle' Dwarf and rounded variety. Up to 30 cm in height Rock garden, vase. Good ground cover
B. thunbergii f. atropurpurea 'Rose Glow' Purple foliage with pink and silver spots. Up to 120 cm Hedges, isolated or in a large vase
'Tiny Gold' Erect habit, up to 40 cm.
Golden foliage with new red shoots
Ground cover, borders, siepine, vase.
Very resistant to the sun.
Berberis x ottawensis f. 'Superba' purple Light yellow
with red shades in small hanging panels, at the beginning of spring
Arched and decombent branches of a beautiful brick color, like the leaves, with metallic reflections.
Up to 3 meters
Isolated specimen or even defensive hedges
Excellent with other Berberis in contrasting colors

Berberis candidula Yellow bell-shaped hanging flowers Violet Very dense, decaying spiny branches. Up to 80 cm.
Bright green, serrated leaves.
For borders, rock gardens, hedges, in the sun or in partial shade
Berberis buxifolia 'Nana' rare Rounded and compact, without thorns. Up to 50 cm. Borders, vases, rocky. Very tolerant
Berberis darwinii Yellow-orange clusters Dark blue Erected, up to 2 m.
Bright green thorny leaves

Decorative and defensive hedges
Berberis julianae A bunches, yellow and red. Dark blue Erect, up to 250 cm.
Dark green leaves, thorny, thorny branches.
Berberis x stenophylla Golden yellow, in hanging clusters Pruinose blue Reddish arched branches.
Small leaves dark green and glaucous on the back.
Up to 2 m