Monday, October 11, 2010


Barberry, Berberis x ottawensis 'Silver Miles'

Barberry 'Silver Miles' with its nearly black leaves and orange-y flowers looks like the perfect Halloween plant. Too bad it blooms in April rather than October!  But you still have the black leaves, and there are plenty of spines, which to me keep it in the running for good Halloween plant.

Call it evil, hostile or just a plant with attitude - it is mean!  You could get scratched just trying to take its picture.  Well, if you are inclined to stumble into things when you're poking around with your camera like some of us are.

I have never wanted to grow barberry but I'm giving it a rethink since hearing that deer do not like it at all. I'm kind of tired of feeding my hydrangeas and azaleas to the herd that frequents my backyard.  Maybe I can learn to love it thorns and all.  (I have had three teenagers.)

Barberries are deciduous and the green ones will color nicely in the fall, especially if they are grown in full sun.  All will tolerate some shade and all sorts of soils, but they do not like wet feet.  They are vigorous growers here so you can make a hedge fairly quickly if you need to.  I like the way an unsheared Barberry 'Silver Miles' looks mixed with other shrubs in this border at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.

Do you have barberry?  Would you recommend it?  This one is certainly beautiful.

UPDATE:  10/20/2010
This morning I talked with Kaiti O'Donnell, the lead horticulturist at Daniel Stowe.  She confirms that barberries can be invasive, though Berberis thunbergii is the main culprit.  B. thunbergii can form impenetrable thickets in some areas, making it impossible for native plants to compete.  

Barberry is not listed on North Carolina's noxious plants list, but to curb its tendencies Kaiti recommends putting landscape fabric around barberries when you plant them so that root sprouts do not crop up around them.  It would also be a good idea to put barberry in an area you can monitor for seedlings and tip rooting.  (Tip rooting is when the branches bend over and touch the ground forming roots and baby barberries - new term to me.  Kaiti says it is especially common for blackberries and raspberries.)

In case you have a need to indulge your inner nerd:  A paper in the  University of Connecticut Journal of Horticultural Science and Biotechnology about barberry identification and parentage,  For the purposes of this conversation, it confirms that some barberries are more invasive or potentially invasive than others, that hybrids tend to have lower seed production and less vigorous "babies."  So, based on that, 'Silver Miles' may be fairly well-behaved in the garden, but it would be a good idea to keep an eye on it.