Hello Fellow Readers,
When I began as a designer, I thought barberry overtaking forest floors was native, which is not the case. The maroon leaf Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii, has been overused in deer-populated areas for years, though it’s understandable why their popularity. They’re tough, their deep red foliage offers a lovely contrast in the garden, and deer don’t eat them. Their slender red berries linger long after the leaves drop, which are prized for their ornamental value. Leaves of Berberis thunbergii turn green in shade, which is why the invasive bully is not as obvious to identify in the woodland areas. While barberry is not yet banned here, using it in garden designs nowadays feels irresponsible. New York banned their sale or transport “except the straight ‘Aurea’ variety” (Berberis thunbergii ‘Aurea’ which is lime green), according to Ben Jansen of Jansen’s Nursery in Florida, NY.
Barberry is likely the most popular plant on the NY Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) 2014 list of banned invasive species. Ben went on to explain Miscanthus sinensis, known as Maiden Grass, was also on the list but now is only regulated and is still available as long as the DEC label is on the plant. The boldface label is intimidating, declaring the plant as an “Invasive Species – Harmful to the Environment.” Then lists non-harmful alternatives such as Feather Read Grass (Calamagrostis), Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) and Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum). The label advises, “Do not plant near wild or natural areas. Deadhead or remove seed debris. Do not share seeds, seedlings, or cuttings with other gardeners.”
Thankfully there are wonderful alternatives to barberry that are gaining popularity. Dwarf purple-leaved Weigela such as Weigela florida ‘Wine and Roses’, ‘Midnight Wine’, or ‘Fine Wine’ are gorgeous deer-resistant alternatives. Substitutes to the larger maroon leaf barberry are my favored Smoke Bush, Cotinus coggygria, growing ten to fifteen feet though manageable with pruning. The smoke-like plumes of flowers give it its common name. Then there’s Eastern Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) – ‘Diablo’ my fav growing four to eight feet though you can keep it about four feet by cutting to a foot high each March.
For an alternative to gold barberry, I’ve heard Golden Jackpot Weigela, Weigela florida ‘MonRigney’ is a winner. Of course, there’s Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Aurea Nana’ or ‘Golden Mop’. Folks call them Gold Thread Cypress and tend to plant them next to barberry, chopping them into yellow, maroon, yellow, and maroon meatballs. Rather, may I suggest gold threads stand alone and allow them to grow into their feathery full-bodied selves? Garden Dilemmas? Askmarystone@gmail.com