Guest Rants, Taking Your Gardening Dollar

One step ahead of the garden police


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.

23 responses to “One step ahead of the garden police”

  1. I hate barberry too. Masochism in the garden is best left for the masochists. Shovels are great for permanent removal of unwanted invasives.

  2. susan harris says:

    No fan of barberry here, either. But I have a question about the law. It’s illegal for anyone to possess these plants – does that apply to having them in your yard? If so, why would anyone buy them now, knowing that a year from now they have to rip them out?

  3. Antonia says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more! Down with them all!

  4. anne says:

    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.

    Does your city say why they are so bad they deserve banning? They hardly seem invasive (except when aided and abetted by obsessive humans).

    • Nancy says:

      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.

  5. Nancy says:

    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.

  6. Chris N says:

    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…”

    Translated, that means the DEC is looking to block commerce in these species. The exception would be if you wanted to “knowingly introduced into a free-living state.” But unlike hunters and wild boars, gardeners are not releasing barberries into the wild so they can hunt them later. From an ecological standpoint rather than a legal one, if you have barberries, you are introducing them to a free-living state via the birds which eat the berries and poop out the seeds but the rule doesn’t cover that.

  7. Tomik says:

    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.

  8. Susan says:

    I was walking near the back of my rural property here in SE Michigan and noticed in the woods some bright red and orange shrubs. As I got closer I realized that they were Barberry. ARGH! I hadn’t realized there were so many of them. Keeping after the invasives is one of my major retirement activities. The good thing about it is that it gets me out in the woods where I see not only the invasives but the natives that I might have missed otherwise.

  9. Chris N has it right: It’s not simple possession, e.g.: it’s growing in one’s yard. It’s the transport.

    One thing that will be interesting: what happens at plant swaps? As soon as someone digs up one of the prohibited invasives, and brings it to the swap, they’re in violation. If someone at the plant swap recognizes an invasive, and allows it to be re-distributed, they’re in violation.

    The law, and the lists of prohibited species, is available from the NYS DEC at

  10. anne says:

    I think the word “knowingly” in the law as it’s worded allows a level of plausible deniability……”Officer, I had no idea!” So it will really come down to the nursery owners and gardening/landscaping professionals to control the planting of these invasive species (and they will take the brunt of enforcement too). But really? I can’t see too much enforcement going on, although the law may give disgruntled neighbors another tool.

  11. Susan says:

    We bought our house over 20 years ago, and it was originally the model home for the development. There’s a large island (raised bed) at the street corner, and some unimaginative landscaper stuffed it with barberry and juniper. Ugh. As soon as I had the chance, I had all of them yanked out and I replaced them with tons of bulbs and perennials and shrubs. So I am definitely not a fan of barberry. Having said that, however, I live in NYS, and it doesn’t surprise me that this issue is coming up. New York is tagged with being very business-unfriendly, but this strikes me as being inspired by the landscaping business – tag the poor homeowner while the landscapers get away with cramming the “invasives” into commercial installations, 20 or 30 at a crack. It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out.

  12. I can see it now; inspectors for landscapes that are paid for from property tax revenues, plant misdemeanors, plant felonies, plant police, plant swat teams armed with assault shovels, gardeners cuffed and sprayed with pepper spray….

  13. greg draiss says:


    The TROLL

  14. Elizabeth Zagorski says:

    Hello from Urimaku, a small village located near the southeastern entrance to the Daisetsu Mountains of Hokkaido.
    I’m sorry to hear that Japanese barberry is so troublesome. Yesterday I was just admiring it’s lovely autumn color (when all others are gone), and thinking that I would like to get some more.
    An invasive species here is raccoons.

  15. Christian says:

    At our garden center we began phasing out ‘invasives’ over the past few years so it’s good to see that NYS will finally catch up to the states surrounding us. For the most part, there are plenty of alternatives to plant. The last one to go this season was barberry. The Adirondack Invasive Plant Program came up with a list based on the NYS tentative ban list and I decided that it would be best to be proactive and stop selling plants they felt were likely to do harm. I didn’t want our garden center to be like a pharmacy that sells cigarettes.

    • Ivette Soler Ivette Soler says:

      Kudos to you Christian!
      I wish all garden center owners/operators would be as responsible as you. If they would keep on top of the invasive plant species for their area, it would go SO FAR toward solving the problem. Many people who go to retail nursery centers know little about plants and rely on the staff to guide them, and it is confusing if they see potentially invasive plants for sale, and sometimes promoted! I recently saw a lovely display here in Southern California that was full of Equisetum hyemale! The suggestion was to plant it around a pond – that “pond” would soon be a bog full of horsetail, which could easily run through irrigated soil to wild land. YIKES!!!!
      Thank you for being one of the good ones!

  16. Glenda Berman says:

    Thank you so much for posting this article and I shall certainly be attending the meeting in Albany. It is very important to anybody who is concerned about the environment to have their voices heard either by submitting comments or in person at a hearing. This new law means the loss of a lot of money to nurserymen and so they will be lobbying in full force. I noticed that Norway Maple and Burning Bush was only regulated and not prohibited – my comments would be that they should be moved up to prohibited.

  17. Tom says:

    They are very invasive here in Maryland. There are sections of woods where barberries seem to be almost the only understory plant, except where the Japanese stilt grass flourishes or the porcelain berry vine blots out the sun. So depressing.

  18. Andrew says:

    This is great story Barbara, i agree with this post that Japanese barberry has no pretty flowers and smell as well. I also hate to grow it in garden.

  19. There are sections of woods where barberries seem to be almost the only under story plant.

  20. Jacob says:

    This story is really an interesting and informative also. Japanese barberry is really bad in smell and don’t have pretty flowers.

  21. Merlin says:

    I, for one, am surprised to learn that barberry is considered invasive. A landscaper planted them on our property over 20 years ago and I have rarely found a volunteer barberry seedling. On the other hand, I have pulled up thousands of euonymus (burning bush) and spirea seedlings.

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