rusty duck 3 berberis 0

Berberis. It falls firmly into the marmite category of shrub world. Love them or hate them. I inherited those three, centre of the shot above, as four foot high monsters bent on world domination.

The ideal thing would have been to winch them out but I can’t help feeling much of the bank would have followed them down. As a compromise they received the full monty short back and sides and ended up a clump of twigs 15 inches high. Of course they grew back. And grew. And grew. Leaving me with a wrestling match at least twice each year. Perched on the side of a 45Β° slippery slope wielding a hedge trimmer is no fun at all. Resorting to old fashioned shears made the job safer but in no way easier. And then there’s the wretched task of picking up all the bits. Even supposedly thorn proof gloves couldn’t cope with that.

Enough already.



And woe betide any fledgling shoot that decides to chance its arm. I am ready with the secateurs.

A thorn in my side no longer.


2017-10-26T10:22:02+00:00March 9th, 2017|Tags: |


  1. derrickjknight March 9, 2017 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    I can’t help but feel the war of ’17 is just beginning. Good luck

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 6:45 pm - Reply

      You may be right. But there is a bottle of stump killer in the shed if it comes to it.

  2. Caro March 9, 2017 at 3:40 pm - Reply

    So … did you dig them out or just hack them to the ground? I have a berberis on my chopping list for the weekend; I’m loathe to get rid of it completely as it’s part of the fence hedge but it blocks the light so is being lowered significantly. Gauntlets at the ready. (And I think your slope looks improved without them.)

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 6:52 pm - Reply

      I hacked them to the ground. But there is nothing left, no twig, no leaf. I suspect they will try to send up new shoots from the rootball but if I keep chopping them off hopefully in the end it will give up. The plants did respond well to being reduced in size, filling out and making nice dense shrubs. But berberis grows so fast it needs constant trimming. And on a slope, and closely surrounded by other plants, it was an almost impossible job.

  3. surreycottage March 9, 2017 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    Urghh – you have no idea how grateful I am that there is not one hint of berberis in this garden. Our old garden had it in spades – Kevin referred to it as ‘that prickly b*gger’. Nooo – we just have dwarf-no-longer conifers to deal with, but at least you don’t need full body armour to deal with them. You have my sympathies xxx

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 6:58 pm - Reply

      Our predecessor was rather fond of berberis it seems. That and pyracantha. It is a miracle I have any arms left.

  4. Anne Wheaton March 9, 2017 at 5:05 pm - Reply

    I inherited a berberis and absolutely loathe it. I have discovered that they are very difficult to get rid of, unlike the rather lovely shrubs that I managed to accidentally kill.

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 7:00 pm - Reply

      Berberis doesn’t look like the sort of shrub that will go quietly. I am trying to avoid chemicals but we’ll see how it goes.

  5. ourfrenchoasis March 9, 2017 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    I had one that I cut back hard too before finally giving in and taking it out, just like you. I wonder if you will find little ones over the summer months, be sure to let us know!

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 7:02 pm - Reply

      I’m sure I will find new shoots emerging, the rootball is still there. I need it to hold the soil on the bank, at least until other planting takes over.

  6. smallsunnygarden March 9, 2017 at 5:29 pm - Reply

    Have at ’em, Jessica! Berberis can look pretty from a distance, but I don’t like its claws close up!

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 7:06 pm - Reply

      At least with pyracantha if you catch a thorn you know about it. Berberis is sneaky. Often I’ve not found the thorns until a finger starts swelling up several hours later. Dreadful stuff.

  7. justjilluk March 9, 2017 at 5:48 pm - Reply

    I am a fan of Marmite but I hate Berberis. Finally got rid, dug out. Now have a wider drive way, safer for both us and the oil delivery person as it shrouded the oil tank. Now have trellis and awaiting honeysuckle and other bee loving plants.

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 7:09 pm - Reply

      Honeysuckle sounds a great solution, the oil person will love you! It does tend to wander so will need an annual haircut to maintain access, but much better than berberis.

  8. Pauline March 9, 2017 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    It’s so satisfying when you can deal with the enemy successfully! Every bit you do improves the slope, before you know it, you will have completed it!

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 7:13 pm - Reply

      Every year the slope looks a bit better. It’s funny, walking past it I don’t even notice the missing berberis even though it dominated before. The slope looks so much more integrated and balanced now.

  9. Linda B. March 9, 2017 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    My rabbits have been munching my specialized barberries but not the everyday variety. Love the look of thorny plants but they do make for a difficult gardening experience. Are you going to replace them with a different shrub?

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 7:23 pm - Reply

      A mix of perennials and shrubs. I want to give the bank a prairie look overall but with some structural elements for winter interest and to reduce maintenance a bit. That’s why I initially decided to keep the berberis. But it never really looked right and with all the trimming, hardly low maintenance!

  10. germac4 March 9, 2017 at 7:56 pm - Reply

    I feel deeeep sympathy for your battle with Bereris .. we inherited a prickly out of control shrub known as Canberra Gem …. gem it was not! Finally got rid of the wretched thing! Good luck with yours..??

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 7:28 pm - Reply

      I wouldn’t mind so much if all the prickly things around here kept the munching critters at bay, but they don’t!

  11. Susan Garrett March 9, 2017 at 8:46 pm - Reply

    Berberis do display a determination to grow huge even after a severe pruning. Their redeeming features being the birds seem to like them for hiding in and the berries and they are pretty when they flower and then the bees love them. I can see though why theie position in your garden makes them difficult to manage.

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 7:31 pm - Reply

      I’ve seen long tailed tits nesting in yet another berberis further up the bank and thought at the time how clever they were to make themselves impregnable. That plant remains, but I have had to reduce its size. They do grow huge.

  12. CT March 9, 2017 at 8:49 pm - Reply

    We put one in…. in a very carefully considered position. It’s still a baby but feeds the birds through the winter. How is your weather looking? Sunday is Race Day at Seaton ?

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 7:35 pm - Reply

      Weather is not looking too bad. The last two days have been dry so hopefully the going won’t be too soft. I don’t suppose you will escape the mud entirely though. There has been so much rain over the last month the ground is holding a lot of water.

  13. Linda March 9, 2017 at 9:25 pm - Reply

    Hi Jessica…
    Your garden battles always make me laugh…oooops, sorry! Hahaha!
    Hope you have won this round….
    Linda :o)

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 7:37 pm - Reply

      The battle but not the war I suspect! Have a good journey home.

  14. Kris Peterson March 9, 2017 at 10:50 pm - Reply

    Congratulations! I can imagine the sigh of relief when you stepped back and viewed your Berberis-free slope. I hope no serious injuries were incurred during the removal process.

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 7:39 pm - Reply

      It was crazy up there. The first rain free day for the best part of a month and so slippery. I’ve left skid marks in the mud. But I was determined to do it before the rain starts again, as inevitably it will.

  15. Chloris March 9, 2017 at 11:20 pm - Reply

    Well done, victory indeed. Now you can come and make a start on my pyracantha.

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 7:45 pm - Reply

      Ah yes, pyracantha. I chopped one of those back too and it’s resprouted. That one I can winch out without causing a landslide. Another lovely job to look forward to.

  16. Beth @ PlantPostings March 10, 2017 at 1:53 am - Reply

    They are invasive here in my part of North America and they harbor ticks–so I’m pulling mine out, too, and replacing them with native shrubs. They’re pretty plants, but it’s time for them to leave!

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 7:50 pm - Reply

      I’ve started this year with a hardened attitude. Poor performers are going. As well as the berberis a large clump of day lilies hit the bonfire pile yesterday as well. All they do here is attract my vast armies of slugs and turn into a partially digested mucky heap. Gone.

  17. Dorothy Borders March 10, 2017 at 4:47 am - Reply

    Congratulations on your well-earned victory!

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 7:51 pm - Reply

      Thanks Dorothy. It’s good to start the gardening season with a victory or two!

  18. Brian Skeys March 10, 2017 at 6:42 am - Reply

    I am with you all the way there Jessica. I planted a nice dark red one when we came here, it was removed four years later after too many thorns in the fingers when weeding around it!

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 8:35 pm - Reply

      Those thorns certainly hang around don’t they. The one thing they’re useful for is spreading around slug vulnerable plants. Molluscs don’t cross a berberis thorn carpet if they can avoid it.

  19. Christina March 10, 2017 at 8:02 am - Reply

    Well done, but a good decision; that bank is precipitous, I fear for you every time you write about working on it.

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 8:38 pm - Reply

      Removing the berberis has opened up a bit of a highway so it should be easier working on that area in the future. I’ll just have a bit of a gap until the rootball rots down and I can start to replant it.

  20. Rosie March 10, 2017 at 9:08 am - Reply

    It’s hard work taking Berberis out, we got rid of two we’d inherited a couple of years after we’d moved in but there is still one between us and next door:)

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 8:42 pm - Reply

      In the right place they’re fine and a boundary fence sounds ideal. Many of my challenges here stem from plants that would have been lovely when they were small but have since massively outgrown their space.

  21. SmallP March 10, 2017 at 9:58 am - Reply

    Your post actually made me laugh out loud. I have an image of you in full battle gear waiting to pounce on the smallest shoot! Thankfully my days with the evil pyracantha are over. Those thorns are buggers to say the least! SmallP xx

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 8:46 pm - Reply

      They certainly are! I have a pyracantha in my sights for later this summer. I hacked it back a couple of years ago and haven’t had flowers or berries since, unsurprisingly. But if it does nothing again this year that’s it. The winch is coming out.

  22. Torrington Tina March 10, 2017 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    More planting space for other things, that bit will not be soon be filled in with something you prefer.

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 8:54 pm - Reply

      A busy summer of plant hunting ahead.. πŸ˜‰

  23. Steve March 10, 2017 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    I had a very large one I wanted to remove. I was lucky as there was a JCB digger in the next door garden and he drove around and scooped it out in seconds. Actually there are so many berberis it is hard to not like some. eg Berberis tunmbergii Aurea and Berberis Koreana β€˜Red Tears’ are two i really l;ike and are worth a place in any garden.

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 8:59 pm - Reply

      I looked up ‘Red Tears’ and it does look lovely. They key is to find the right place for it. When we moved in this bank was home to about twenty five 50′ conifers and the berberis were in front of them. The trees, so close to the house, had to go leaving the berberis in splendid isolation. All of a sudden not the right place at all.

  24. Marianne March 10, 2017 at 5:04 pm - Reply

    They are the nightmare from hades. Just an idea, I grew honneysuckle haliana on my slope which like yours was forever falling down or in danger of doing so, dogs, deer and boars didnt help! Although it was south facing and extremely dry soil it did grow and I pinned it down at intervals to create roots to help stabilize the bank. I heard it called the beast as it apparently grows fast n big but mine didn’t, too hot n dry I guess. Did the job though and doesn’t need full sun either.

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 9:06 pm - Reply

      I can think of just the place for it and that is the other side of the house where the bank is almost vertical. A waterfall of honeysuckle would look fabulous. And as you say, rooted in at intervals so it helps to stabilise the bank as well as looking and smelling gorgeous!

  25. Marianne March 10, 2017 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    Ps. Forgot to say I let it scramble down, having planted at the top. Good luck with the bank.

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 9:07 pm - Reply

      Thanks Marianne!

  26. kate@barnhouse March 10, 2017 at 5:32 pm - Reply

    I don’t like prickly shrubs with spiteful thorns, unless perhaps they’re placed strategically on boundaries …. There are much nicer things you can use to hold the soil in place, your fearlessness and the progress you make in your garden is remarkable.

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 9:11 pm - Reply

      It’s been so frustrating this past few weeks, I’ve had about two days outside in total thanks to the weather. I’m just hoping it’s now going to dry up a bit, there is so much left to do not least virtually all of the winter clearing.

  27. bittster March 10, 2017 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    Good for you!
    Nothing worse than a needy plant which just doesn’t give enough back to you… and then attacks the minute your guard is down, how ungrateful!

    • Jessica March 10, 2017 at 9:16 pm - Reply

      Exactly. I bought some proper pruning gloves for this job and the thorns even managed to penetrate them. Enough is enough.

  28. Anna March 10, 2017 at 11:20 pm - Reply

    Oh job well done Jessica!

    • Jessica March 13, 2017 at 7:14 pm - Reply

      Thanks Anna. So far they’re staying down..

  29. Cathy March 11, 2017 at 8:21 am - Reply

    The bank’s looking good Jessica (in spite of the berberis, perhaps). We have three purple-leaved ones – my husband, Nick, wanted to take them out, since before our bank became a border he had the job of strimming under them. But I enjoy the colour with asters in the autumn. The idea Marianne gives above – growing a honeysuckle on the bank – is a good one. Might try it too!

    • Jessica March 13, 2017 at 7:17 pm - Reply

      I still have a purple leaved one and do like it. It has been relocated to somewhere it can’t do any harm and makes a good backdrop to other things. With good behaviour over the next year or so it can stay!

  30. hb March 11, 2017 at 4:37 pm - Reply

    No one here grows them. πŸ™‚ I hope you rewarded yourself appropriately for a wise choice. Best wishes for permanent Berberis termination!

    • Jessica March 13, 2017 at 7:20 pm - Reply

      Having seen how much better the bank looks without them I shall be eagle eyed for any opportunistic shoot. I have a bottle of stump killer in the shed but hopefully it won’t come to that.

  31. restlessjo March 11, 2017 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    They can be rather attractive (a neighbour has a lovely hedge filled with golden berries from time to time πŸ™‚ ) but they can be SO wilful! πŸ™‚

    • Jessica March 13, 2017 at 7:22 pm - Reply

      They can and I have the thorns in my fingers to prove it!

  32. Sarah March 11, 2017 at 8:05 pm - Reply

    I can share your pain and dilemma. We bought a red coloured one for our previous garden it was beautiful but could be so spiteful! We never took it out although it was tempting sometimes! Needless to say we don’t have one in our new garden! Sarah x

    • Jessica March 13, 2017 at 7:30 pm - Reply

      The red ones are very pretty. The one example here is probably the only one I’ll end up keeping. It sits amongst rhododendrons and looks good with them. And in the middle of a shrubbery I shouldn’t need to weed around it too often!

  33. Cathy March 12, 2017 at 8:46 am - Reply

    And no referee – I trust it was a fair match… ?

    • Jessica March 13, 2017 at 7:34 pm - Reply

      Injuries were incurred by both sides.

  34. offtheedgegardening March 12, 2017 at 3:33 pm - Reply

    I am definitely allergic to all things spiky and avoid them at any cost. They can be very beautiful, but in other peoples’ gardens only!

    • Jessica March 13, 2017 at 7:35 pm - Reply


  35. snowbird March 12, 2017 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    The slope does look a lot better without them. I can imagine how difficult it was getting shut though!xxx

    • Jessica March 13, 2017 at 7:40 pm - Reply

      The slope looks better integrated and more balanced than it did before. So much so that I’m having difficulty visualising the berberis there at all.

  36. Indie March 12, 2017 at 8:06 pm - Reply

    I’m solidly in the hate category here. Even without the thorns (yikes!) they are very invasive here and harbor rodents, which contributes to the rise in the number of ticks, which contributes to the epidemic of Lyme’s Disease and other hideous tick-born diseases that we have here. (Some even think that the spread of barberry is what has led to the huge problem with Lyme’s Disease here.) In some places they’ve been turning to flame-throwers and burning the barberry out, which sounds much more fun than tackling it with pruners!

    • Jessica March 13, 2017 at 7:45 pm - Reply

      Goodness, that puts my problem with three lone plants into perspective. They do grow very fast, I can understand how they might become invasive. It was the constant need for trimming (and the associated injuries!) that led to my decision to remove them in the end.

  37. Laura March 12, 2017 at 10:20 pm - Reply

    Loved the title; knew we were in for a treat!

    • Jessica March 13, 2017 at 7:46 pm - Reply

      The score may only cover the first half of the game.. we shall see!

  38. Libby March 13, 2017 at 10:15 am - Reply

    Hilarious post, my neighbour grows Pyracantha, which prefers to grow over my side of the fence, so I spend most of my gardening keeping the evil thorns on her side. Doesn’t always work!

    • Jessica March 13, 2017 at 7:51 pm - Reply

      Thanks Libby. Pyracantha is even worse. I have one here that took over most of one side of the drive. We hacked it hard back so not even flowers or berries to enhance it now. Another one for the chop this year.

  39. Jacqueline March 14, 2017 at 10:21 am - Reply

    We have one that was here when we moved here over 30 years ago and it’s my most hated colour … orange …. BUT ….. it is a bit of colour early in the year so I have left it in !! Not my favourite but I can live with it …… it’s funny how a couple of ceanothus gave up after about 15 years but the berberis carries on year after year !!! Typical !! XXXX

    • Jessica March 14, 2017 at 9:54 pm - Reply

      Ceanothus do tend to be short lived. Berberis will survive the apocalypse (along with the squirrels and the mice).

  40. Jo March 14, 2017 at 10:27 am - Reply

    A job well done, just don’t turn your back!

    • Jessica March 14, 2017 at 9:58 pm - Reply

      I know. I’m just waiting for the inevitable. But I will give it a run for its money.

  41. CherryPie March 14, 2017 at 10:37 pm - Reply

    I am not a fan of Berberis. It can look so pretty but…

    • Jessica March 15, 2017 at 9:00 am - Reply

      These were in bloom for only the briefest time then sat there green and thorny for the rest of the year. It wasn’t a hard decision!

  42. Andrea March 17, 2017 at 8:38 am - Reply

    Dare I say it – I like my berberis?! I had one in my last garden and have inherited one in my new garden as well. I do agree it is a pain in the backside to prune though! Happy gardening!

    • Jessica March 17, 2017 at 10:08 am - Reply

      Hi Andrea and welcome.
      I have a purple leaved berberis which will definitely be staying. We relocated it last year to somewhere it can’t attack people and will need minimal pruning!

      • Andrea March 17, 2017 at 11:15 am - Reply

        I have found they can come in quite useful on property boundaries πŸ˜‰

        • Jessica March 19, 2017 at 11:22 am - Reply

          Yes indeed! πŸ™‚

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