Barberry is a very commonly planted shrub in Prairie landscapes. A healthy specimen could be a very nice addition to the garden, as there are plenty of great-looking varieties. The problem with barberry is that is doesn’t over-winter well, and often looks ragged and shabby. For this reason, we don’t use them in our landscape designs, and we recommend that people remove unsightly specimens and replace with hardier, lower maintenance shrubs. In my career, I have found that specimens in Edmonton generally look better than those in more southerly locations, but winter die-back is still a problem.
To improve your chances of having a nice-looking barberry in your yard, choose healthy plants from the garden centre, plant in moist, well-drained soil with a mulch cover, and plant in a sunny spot that offers a bit of protection from the harshness of winter.
Full to part sun
The best time to prune is after the shrub is in full leaf, so you can easily identify the dead branches and tips.
Remove dead branches each in late spring. Shorten wayward branches to balance the form.
Shaping & Crown Reduction
Most of the barberries I see in the landscape have been massacred by power hedgers. This is unsightly. I do not recommend shaping barberries. They look much better in their natural form.
(c) 2014 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB