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Add Color To Shrubs With Japanese Barberry
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Sometimes the landscape world seems dominated by dark green shrubs, but there is one group available that offers some strikingly colorful options for the home.
The group I am referring to is the Japanese barberry. The barberry is related to the nandina and the mahonia, which also are outstanding plants. In a sea of green, red-leafed Japanese barberries are worth every penny spent on the purchase.
This tough shrub has a lot to offer the home landscape besides colorful foliage. It is drought tolerant and virtually pest free. Popular varieties are Crimson Giant, Crimson Pygmy and Rose Glow, but it is hard to believe that there are more than 25 selections listed.
The Japanese barberry is hardy throughout the South. They are great accent plants, hedges and barrier plantings in the landscape. With their sharp spines, no burglar would survive trying to get through one to a window.
All summer, the deep red leaves serve as a colorful contrast between other leaves of green. Try the red-leafed varieties against hollies or planted behind low growing junipers. Summer flowers like blue plumbago or the bonanza series of marigolds look exceptional against the backdrop of red.
But red is not the only color. Many gardeners don't realize they also come in a lime green, a knockout color that livens up the garden. The Purple Heart makes an exceptionally good companion plant.
Good choices in the green and yellow types are Kobold, Aurea, Globe and Green Carpet. There are more than 20 green, yellow and variegated varieties listed.
Plant barberries in full sun to partial shade. Prepare the soil by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and 2 pounds of a 5- 10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area, tilling deeply.
Know your variety before planting. Some reach only two to three feet in height, while others will reach six feet. Their width is usually fairly close to their height, so you will want to space them three to four feet apart.
Dig the planting hole three to five times as wide as the rootball but no deeper. Place the plant in the hole and backfill with soil to two-thirds the depth. Tamp the soil and water to settle, add the remaining backfill, repeat the process and apply mulch.
Moisture is critical during the first year, especially in years like the past two. Water deeply when required, training the roots to go deep. Feed four weeks after transplanting using a slow-released fertilizer, like an 8-8-8 or 12-6-6 at 1 pound per 100 square feet of bed space.
In beds less than three years of age, feed as mentioned in March and August. Established plantings are best fed in March. Pruning is one cultural technique that really helps the landscape look. Prune in late winter to encourage dense growth, removing old, woody canes in the middle of the plant. Be sure to wear thick gloves for this operation!
Check out your garden center for good buys on barberries and other shrubs this time of the year. Container-grown specimens can be planted with great success. Liven up your landscape by growing the Japanese barberry. They not only are tough plants, but they offer beauty to the home.