Pruning Barberries: A Garden Maintenance Nightmare

By Amy Grant | November 16, 2020
by Amy Grant
November 16, 2020

Gardening is my hobby but I’m as passionate about it as if I was painting a masterpiece. Of course, that doesn’t mean I enjoy every aspect of gardening. You might think that a typical chore like weeding would be a gardening task I detest, but you would be wrong. I actually love to weed. Weeding gives me time to ponder life’s mysteries, or at least to think of something for dinner.

The one gardening task that I detest and consider a chore has to do with my Japanese barberry. Actually, there are two of them and they are the bane of my existence. Yes, they have lovely colorful foliage and add some nice texture and height to the landscape, but they are sharp, and dangerously so.

Pruning Barberry Shrubs

Unfortunately, the barberry also grows quite rapidly and, as it is situated beneath two large picture windows, needs to be pruned twice a year – once in the fall and again in winter. This task is so annoying to both me and my honey that the question of who will prune the hazardous bushes almost brings us to blows.

It does not seem to matter how you garb yourself before cutting back these prickly shrubs. No amount of armor seems sufficient to protect delicate skin. The vicious thorns make their way through heavy leather gloves and layers of clothing to lodge in your skin, making the task one worthy of filling up a swear jar.

And the aftermath”¦. once the task of pruning barberries has been accomplished and it’s time to shed your layers of clothing, not only are you a big sweaty mess, but every place that you have been stabbed by a barb is itchy and sore and will remain that way for days.

We’ve gone through this unpleasant garden maintenance for three years now and we’re over it. It’s time for the barberry to go. So, one last time we will don our protective clothing. This time is going to be more painful than all the other times put together, but will be worth it. 

The best part is I get to buy some new plants! The Japanese barberry will be replaced with witch hazel ‘Jelena,’ a winter blooming hybrid with gorgeous copper-hued flowers that will accent our house color. And getting to buy new plants is a reward for all the curse words and pain I’m about to go through.

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  • BlakeFelix
    Comment added May 25, 2021Reply

    Plus they are invasive and like spreading. You might as well have Multifloral rose or Japanese Knotweed as barberries. At least knotweed is tasty and won't stab you.

  • Merchans Landscaping
    Comment added March 6, 2021Reply

    great article on Pruning Barberries and thank you for sharing it

  • ben martin
    Comment added January 28, 2021Reply

    thanks for sharing your article on Pruning Barberries. Sometimes, it's really hard for us if we didn't get than what we want.
    I am also a garden lover and love to read the articles on gardening and i write some too.
    I also want to share an informative article on compost for gardening.
    looking for more articles from your side.

  • Kelly M.
    Comment added November 20, 2020Reply

    I've loved barberry since I was a kid, and we had a small hedge of them. I loved the red foliage and bright-red berries.

    In my opinion, you are being overly dramatic. If you are getting all scratched up, you're doing it wrong. Wear leather gloves and long sleeves. Prune the barberry with a hedge trimmer, and sweep up the cuttings with a rake or whisk broom (depending on the surface they land on). Most of the cuttings will land inside the hedge anyway.
    Dump the gathered cuttings in a garbage can and you're done.

  • Christina Mikus
    Comment added November 18, 2020Reply

    I feel your pain. I have despised this shrub since I was a kid. My father would trim them and I had the job of picking up after him. I have never forgot that. When a landscaper architect had them in the plans for my house I instructed him to come up with something else. I will have to look into the witch hazel.

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