Berberis Thunbergii: cultivation, description of varieties

Table of Contents

Growing Berberis thunbergii in the garden-1 Tunberg’s barberry (lat. Berberis thunbergii) is a genus of Barberry in the family Barbarisaceae, which grows in nature in the Far East. This species has also been naturalized in North America and Europe. In culture, the Tunberg’s barberry is grown everywhere.

Valued the plant primarily for its high ornamental value.

Planting and care of Berberis thunbergii

  • Flowering: May.
  • Planting: Spring before sap production begins or in autumn in October.
  • Lighting: species with red and burgundy leaves need bright light, and plants with green
    foliage develop well and in the penumbra.
  • Soil: Light, not boggy, deeply drained.
  • Watering: Only during prolonged drought.
  • Feeding: preferably organic: compost and humus shall be brought in parvilage circles in
    spring under digging, and in autumn the root zone shall be mulched with loose compost or peat.
  • Pruning: pruning is not necessary, but protruding from the crown, too long shoots can be
    shortened at any time. It is better to make sanitary pruning in spring, before sap formation.
  • Propagation: by seeds, division of bush, cuttings, grafts and shoots.
  • Pests: aphids and flower moths.
  • Diseases: rust, powdery mildew, shoot desiccation and leaf spotting.
Read more about growing Tunberg’s barberry below

Botanical description

Tunberg’s barberry is a deciduous shrub up to 2.5 m tall, although in culture the height of Tunberg’s barberry rarely exceeds 1 m. It has arched, ribbed branches and red-orange or bright red shoots that turn brown or dark brown over time.

The buds of this species are reddish, egg-shaped, about 5 mm long. The leaves are full, rhomboidal-oval, spatulate or rounded, pointed or slightly rounded at the top and wedge-shaped at the base. The leaves are arranged on stalks and reach a length of 2-3 cm and a width of 1 cm. The upper side of the leaf plate is colored in bright green, the lower – blue. In the fall, the leaves turn yellow or bright red. Shoots and branches of the plant have few thin and elastic prickles up to 1 cm long.

The bright yellow, reddish outside bell-shaped flowers of the Berberis thunbergii, which are singular or put together by 2-5 pieces in bunches or short racemes, reach a diameter of 1 cm. Flowering begins in May. The brilliant ellipsoidal coral-red fruits are about 1 cm long and ripen in September or October.

Growing Berberis thunbergii in the garden-2

Gardeners are attracted by the natural shape of the plant’s crown and the beauty of its leaves, which are many variations of green, yellow and red in color. In addition, Tunberg’s barberry is highly winter-hardy and resistant to the dangerous for all types of barberry diseases powdery mildew and rust.

Planting Berberis thunbergii in the ground

When to plant

The site for the Berberis thunbergii should be sunny and open, but still protected from the cold wind. Varieties of the plant with dark green foliage can grow in the penumbra, but barberries with red and burgundy leaves need a lot of light. The soil needs light, deeply drained, in no case boggy. If the soil on the site has a heavy structure, little permeable to water and air, you will need to prepare to fill the planting hole substrate of sod soil, sand and humus in a ratio of 2:1:1.

Plant Berberis thunbergii in the spring, before the buds swell, or in the fall, and the fall planting is preferable. Seedlings with a closed root system can be planted at any time of year, except in winter.

How to plant

Dig a planting hole with a diameter and depth of about half a meter. The distance between two bushes should be 1,5-2 m, and if you plant a hedge, then place 2 bushes on 1 m. When planting dwarf varieties, the distance between bushes is left within 50 cm.

Planting and caring for Tunberg

Place a layer of sand 10 cm thick in the bottom of the hole, then fill the holes with the prepared substrate, carefully place the seedling on it, straighten its roots and fill the voids with the same substrate. Lightly tamp down the surface and water the seedling. After the water is absorbed, mulch the root circle with humus or peat and shorten the ground part, leaving no more than 3 buds on the shoots. Until the seedling takes root and goes into growth, it is watered once every 10 days.

Berberis thunbergii care

Berberis thunbergii planting and care is not laborious. Neither in frequent watering, nor in abundant feeding it does not need. Moistening the vineyard circle will need only during prolonged drought, the rest of the time barberry enough natural rainfall. To prevent watering, make a roller about 10 cm high around the perimeter of the tree’s bedding circle or select soil from under the bush so that the bedding circle becomes a large, not very deep hole. Watering is carried out with warm water under the root. After watering or rain loosen the soil around the bush and remove weeds.

As a fertilizer for barberry Tunberg is preferred organic – compost or humus, which are brought in the spring under the digging. In the fall, the soil under the bushes is mulched with loose organic material – peat or loose compost.

There is no great need for pruning Berberis thunbergii, except for some varieties of plants to shorten too long, sticking out of the loose crown shoots. Pruning is usually done to remove shoots that froze over the winter, and this is done after the plant has developed new leaves and frost damage is evident.

Berberis thunbergii can be affected by aphids and flower moths as a pest. From the aphids the plant is treated with Chlorophos or Decis, and against barberry aphids in early spring to spray the bushes with a solution of 300 g of soap in 10 liters of water or tobacco decoction (500 g of tobacco brewed in 10 liters of soap solution). If folk remedies don’t help, you’ll have to resort to acaricides such as Actellic, Actara, Antitillin and similar preparations.

How to plant and care for Berberis thunbergii-4

Berberis thunbergii can have problems from powdery mildew, leaf spotting, rust and shoots drying out. If you see white powdery mildew on the leaves, treat the plant with a colloidal sulfur solution or a sulfur-lime mixture and cut off the badly affected shoots and burn them. Leaf spotting appears in a variety of shapes and colors. As the disease develops, the leaves begin to dry and fall off. Destroy the infection with a solution of 30 g of copper oxychloride in 10 liters of water, treating the shrub twice: before and after flowering. Some types of fungi cause desiccation of barberry shoots. You can stop the process by timely pruning the diseased shoots, followed by treatment of the plant with a fungicide solution.

In spring, bright orange spots appear on the upper side of the leaf plate of young leaves, and on the lower side in the orange pads spores are formed. This disease is called rust. The active development of the disease causes the leaves to wither and fall off prematurely. To destroy the infection, it is necessary to spray the barberry with a two percent solution of Bordeaux liquid or one and a half percent solution of colloidal sulfur immediately after the leaves bloom, and after that to carry out the treatment two more times every three weeks.

Propagation of Berberis thunbergii

Tunberg’s barberry is propagated by seeds, cuttings, clippings, shoots and bush division.

The generative method provides an opportunity to obtain new varieties and hybrids, but it requires patience and time. The difficulty in implementing the seed method of reproduction is that barberry seeds germinate poorly: only 15 to 40% of the seed germinates. To improve germination, seed surface scarify, that is, slightly damage the surface shell, then the seeds are sown into the ground under the winter at a depth of 4-5 cm: during the cold season they undergo natural stratification and germinate well in spring. The seedlings are planted in 2-3 years in a permanent location.

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You will need half-peeled shoots about 15 cm long for cuttings. You can also root one-year green shoots with two or three internodes by making a 45º angle cut at the bottom. To speed up root growth, treat the lower cuttings with a growth stimulant before planting, and then cover the planted cuttings with perforated film.

If you want to propagate barberry with grafts, bury the low-growing branches of the plant in spring, water them all summer, and in autumn, when they put down roots, cut the grafts from the mother bush and transplant.

If you divide the bush, you can immediately get a ready seedling, but the difficulty of the method is that the procedure can damage the mother bush. The plant can be divided only in spring, before flowering begins, or in autumn after leaf fall.

Berberis thunbergii varieties

Berberis thunbergii has several decorative forms (multifloral, dark purple, silvery-bordered, Maximovitch and others) and many varieties. The description of the varieties of barberry Tunberg could take dozens of pages, so we offer you to get acquainted only with the most famous in culture varieties.
The dwarf varieties of the plant are considered particularly valuable:

  • Tunberg’s Kobold barberry is a plant no taller than 50 cm with dark green, shiny leaves that
    turn scarlet red or yellow in fall;
  • Minor – a variety up to 50 cm high with green foliage;
  • Tunberg Aurea barberry – a shrub up to 80 cm high with lemon-yellow or golden-yellow leaves
    that turn yellowish-orange in fall;
  • Tunberg’s barberry Orange Dream is a prickly shrub up to 70 cm high with orange foliage and the
    same shoots;
  • Tunberg Gold Bonanza barberry – up to 50 cm high and about 70 cm in diameter with small leaves
    in a light lemon-golden shade;
  • Berberis thunbergii Bagatelle – up to 40 cm high with beet-coloured leaves. Bagatelle means
    “trinket” in French. The leaves of this variety have a brownish tint in summer and turn bright red in autumn;
  • Berberis thunbergii Golden Dream is a compact plant 50-70 cm high with small, narrow, bright
    yellow leaves that turn coral red in autumn;
  • Tunberg’s barberry Coronita is a variety up to 50 cm high and up to 1.5 m in diameter with
    bright dark purple leaves with a light green border around the edge;
  • Berberis thunbergii Admiration is a dense bush up to 50 cm high with bright red or dark orange
    leaves with yellow borders;
  • Tunberg’s barberry Atropurpurea Nana is a variety which reaches a height of 60 cm and a
    pillow-like crown spreading to 1 m wide. The plant’s leaves are purplish-red, turning a scarlet-red hue in the
    fall. The flowers are red on the outside and yellow on the inside.

Tall Tunberg’s barberries with burgundy, orange or red leaves are represented by these varieties:

  • Atropurpurea is a shrub up to 180 cm high with purple-red-brown leaves throughout the season;
  • Tunberg’s barberry Orange Rocket – an upright shrub up to 120 cm high and 50-60 cm in diameter
    with red-orange foliage;
  • Red Pillar barberry – a bush up to one and a half meters in height with reddish-purple leaves,
    which turn scarlet in autumn;
  • Golden Ring Berberis thunbergii – a very tall plant up to 3 m high with dark purple yellow fringed
    leaves that turn bright red in autumn. The fruits of this variety are coral-red in color;
  • Helmond Pillar, almost column-shaped, up to 1.5 m tall with a crown volume of about 50 cm. The
    young leaves of the plant are red-pink, and the older ones are a deep purple color;
  • barberry Tunberg’s Red Rocket – a tall plant up to 2 m high with orange-red foliage that turns
    orange in autumn;
  • Tunberg’s barberry Darts Red Lady – a shrub up to 80 cm in height with a globular crown
    consisting of shiny, dark burgundy-purple leaves, turning yellow in autumn.

High-growing varieties of barberry Tunberg with red leaves Elektra and Red Cheef are also in demand in culture.

High-growing varieties with green and yellow leaves are represented by such varieties:

  • Erecta Berberis thunbergii – a plant up to 1.5 m high with a narrow-column-shaped in youth and a
    spreading crown in maturity, consisting of small light green leaves that turn yellow in autumn. The bright red
    fruits remain on the shrub long after the leaves have fallen;
  • Vermillion, a variety about 1 m tall and wide with green leaves that turn a scarlet hue in the
  • Berberis thunbergii Green Carpet – a bush up to 1 m high with a crown up to 1.5 m in diameter.
    Leaves are light green in summer and scarlet red in autumn. The fruits are red or pink;
  • Berberis thunbergii Maria is a Polish variety up to 1 m tall with a column-shaped crown. Young
    leaves have a reddish tint, and become yellow as they mature.
Growing conditions for Berberis thunbergii in the garden-7

Berberis thunbergii has many varieties with mottled leaves. For example:

  • Barberry Tunberga Harlequin – a 120-150 cm tall bush with red leaves in pink and white spots;
  • Rosetta – a variety with burgundy leaves with lots of white and pink spots;
  • Tunberg’s barberry Rose Glow – a variety with a height up to 1.5 m and a crown of the same
    diameter. Young leaves of this plant are decorated with white-pink and bronze-red marbled pattern, and older
    leaves – red-purple and dark pink;
  • Tunberg’s barberry Pink Queen (Atropurpurea rosea) – a sprawling plant up to 120 cm in height
    with brown leaves mottled with gray and red-pink strokes. In autumn, the leaves turn purple;
  • Kelleris is a broad shrub with leaves in creamy white strokes and spots. In the fall, the white
    patches change to pink or dark red;
  • Silver Beauty is a slow-growing variety that reaches 1.5 m tall and 1 m wide, with mottled
    silvery-green leaves and a silvery fringe. At the end of the season, dark red and pink spots appear on the

Popular among gardeners and designers are also varieties of barberry Tunberga Natasha, Variegata, Globe, Golden Divine, Golden Nugget, Golden Pillar, Golden Ruby, Golden Rocket, Darts Purple, Cabernet, Intermedia, Cornick, Concord, Crimson Ruby, Crimson Velvet, Powwow, Royal Burgundy, Sunny, Sense, Sparkle, Tony Gold, Fireball, Harmony, Sheridance Red, Cherry Bomb and many others.

Berberis thunbergii in landscape design

Berberis thunbergii is often used as a hedge, and the bushes can be given any shape, and you can not cut at all. A hedge of Berberis thunbergii bushes is impenetrable because of thorns and very beautiful. It can take 6 to 7 years to build.


Plants of this species are planted on the banks of ponds, in stony gardens, in landscape compositions and in single plantings – everywhere Tunberg’s barberry will be beautiful. Not tall varieties of the plant are used to create borders, squares and shrub mixborders. And in Japanese gardens, dwarf varieties of Kobolt, Green Carpet or Atropurpurea Nana barberry formed as dense cushions can successfully replace the traditional small-leaved azaleas.


  1. Read on the subject at Wikipedia
  2. Features and other plants of the Barberry
  3. List of all species on The Plant List
  4. Further information at World Flora Online