One step ahead of the garden police

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I never liked Japanese barberry shrubs anyway. They do not have pretty flowers. They smell bad, as in, cat urine bad. They have vicious thorns that really hurt whenever I tried to prune them or to weed in their vicinity. I never could understand why folks planted them. So last year, armed with thick gloves and determination, I did my best to hack to death the two Japanese barberry shrubs that were growing in my yard. I succeeded with one of them, but this remaining one, above, is still putting out a few suckers.

Bwaahahaha…I’ll get you yet, my not-so-pretty!

These are not shrubs that I  planted. We inherited them when we bought this house seven years ago. I am guessing that they were part of the original developer’s basic landscape package, because I see them in all of my neighbors’ yards.

And that’s too bad because as it turns out, they are about to become illegal to possess. Seriously. According to a recent story in the Albany (NY) Times Union, it would be illegal for New Yorkers to possess any of more than 120 invasive species under proposed state rules disclosed Tuesday [October 29, 2013]. Japanese barberry is on the list of soon-to-be-banned species.

However, the story goes on to explain that the state is going to delay the ban on selling and possessing Japanese barberry for another year because the Department of Environmental Conservation wants to give the 9,000 licensed nursery growers in New York State time to “sell their existing stocks.”

Whaaaa?? These shrubs are so bad for the environment that we’re gonna ban them, but not until the dealers get a chance to dump thousands more of them into the yards of unsuspecting homeowners.

Good grief. Well, at least our landscaping will be in compliance, once I manage to finish off that last thorny, smelly, ugly, evil barberry bush.
(Insert mental image of me ghoulishly sharpening my pruning shears here.)

Posted by

Barbara Conner

on November 11, 2013 at 8:10 am, in the category Guest Rants, Taking Your Gardening Dollar.


  1. Sometime back in the 90’s Japanese Barberry became a “shrub of choice” for corporate landscaping in our region, popping up in parking lots and industrial parks everywhere. It provides color and is low maintenance; but your description makes it seem even more “appropriate” for the corporate landscape, being a plant that would seem to deter human loitering. Then they spilled over into subdivision landscaping and beyond, until their prevelance made them boring.

  2. The edible fruits are beloved by birds who have spread them throughout the woods. There are millions of them all over the woods here in the northeast. They crowd out less aggressive native species, and grow into horrible barbed thickets. Depending on where you live it may be more or less apparent that this is a terrible invasive species. They are sometimes very attractive looking in the landscape, but the naturalized seedlings that I’ve seen aren’t all that showy.

  3. They’re also reputed to be attractive to ticks, especially as they grow into dense, moist, shady, impenetrable thickets. Tick population and Lyme disease increases are associated with increased populations of barberries. The existing nursery stocks should be destroyed and some kind of tax credit or something like that given to compensate for losses, though the growers and sellers of terrible plants should be responsible for the life forms they are dispersing for profit. This is another case of closing the gate after the cows have gotten out. Unless we all start seeking out and destroying the escaped plants of particularly nasty invasive species they’re numbers will keep increasing even if we don’t plant a single one. The fruits are said to be edible, tasting better after a freeze. I haven’t tried one yet.

  4. Nancy has summarized quite well why they are to be banned. But no one is going to come to your yard and force you to rip them out. According to the Department of Environmental Conservation “The proposed regulations include a list of prohibited species which shall be unlawful to knowingly possess with the intent to sell, import, purchase, transport or introduce; a list of regulated species which shall be legal to possess, sell, purchase, propagate and transport but may not be knowingly introduced into a free-living state…”

  5. I sympathize with all of you who dislike barberries knowing as I do of their rampant invasiveness in the Northeast, etc. Right now, here in my part of California where they are not invasive, my barberries have turned a wonderful array of vibrant fall colors. Lacking the grand Fall display of New England, gardeners here add the smaller bits available to us. Thus barberry earns a place in the garden, although admittedly it is often used too ubiquitously.

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