What Is a Pygmy Barberry?

Britt Archer
Britt Archer
Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

The pygmy barberry is a smaller form of the Japanese or red barberry shrub. The plant grows to only about 2 feet (0.60 meters) tall, compared to Japanese barberry’s possible maximum height of 8 feet (2.43 meters). The pygmy barberry is valued for it compactness and its long-lasting bright red color, which will dim somewhat if it doesn’t receive enough sunlight. Its small yellow blossoms are attractive and produce a reddish berry that is attractive to wildlife, and the foliage takes on an orange cast in autumn. This thorny shrub is a good choice in areas with deer problems because deer do not eat it, and insects also are deterred.

Landscapers like the pygmy barberry because it is rugged and can be used around a foundation or as a low hedge. Some gardeners plant the mounded shrub near a fountain or pond, or place it in a more naturalized area for a spot of bright color. The scarlet foliage also does well as a contrast with green shrubs and other plants in a border.

Caring for barberries like the pygmy barberry shrub requires planting them in soil that drains well, and whose soil is a bit alkaline. An occasional dry spell will not harm an established pygmy barberry, but watering must be done a few times a week until a new planting becomes established. A fertilizer is not needed except for once in autumn, when the shrub is new and still becoming established. An older barberry does not need fertilizer applications. Pruning can be dispensed with, but a barberry will tolerate pruning if desired or needed.

Known also as a pepperidge bush or berberis, a barberry shrub is sometimes used as a protective device around the home landscape because of its thorny stems. Some homeowners plant them under windows to deter intruders or others from peeking in the window. Placing a barberry near a foundation or window is an accepted use, but homeowners should make sure the site receives enough light to encourage proper growth. The sharp thorns make it necessary for gardeners to wear gloves when planting a barberry or its shorter relative, the pygmy barberry. Heavy pruning should be performed in late fall or early winter.

Numerous types of barberries are available for purchase, and their foliage colors range from lighter green shades to deep ruby red. Yellow foliage, for example, can be found in the Aurea variety. Purple and rose foliage is produced by a variety called Rose Glow. Ruby Carousel’s foliage is a deep, bright purple.

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