First Tree - Barberry


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Evansville, IN
I'm new to the forum, so wanted to say hello.

I recently became interested in bonsai, so I've been on several of the online forums for a few months now reading posts and looking at progressions of trees. Now that the nurseries in the area have plants out, I decided I would attempt to give the whole bonsai experience a try. After checking out a few different places I came across a Barberry that just caught my eye for some reason. Since it was good cheap material I figured it would be a good experiment.

I am located in southern Indiana, which I believe is right around zone general nowhere near as cold as central/northern Indiana and not as warm in the summers as Kentucky, but extremely humid. Barberry are grown in nearly every garden here, so I figured this would be a good hardy bush to play with.

When I got the bush home and pulled it out of its plastic pot, I was pretty surprised by the amount of roots in the pot. Not sure what to do, I carefully combed as much of the roots as possible to get the potting soil out (also found rubber bands, a screw, and half of a marble). I was too timid to cut any roots, so I got what soil I could and repotted into a 90% inorganic 10% spag moss mix. I'm using an oil absorbant from Auto Zone as the turface fill in since it only cost me about 3 dollars and works just fine on plants I've had in the past.

And now to figure out where to go from here. I've been told Barberry take pruning well in spring and early summer, but to avoid cutting any roots. I figured I would think of which branches to cut and remove a few now, then major pruning or chopping next spring along with my root pruning.

Any suggestions as to my next move? I'll post a few photos of the tree as well. The base of the trunk is just over 2 inches in diameter, with the first branch about an inch from the soil line.


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Here is the basic idea I have for it as of now... ~10inch broom style. Again any suggestions are welcomed. Also, I want to see if anyone has experience with barberries that can tell me if it would be safe to do any severe pruning this late in the spring.


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I would cut it back to the lowest spot on the major branches you want to keep that still has foliage. Then again, I've killed probably 10 or 15 nursery barberries so... :D

I've found they can be chopped pretty hard if you don't mess with the roots after they've leafed out, guess it would just depend on how many feeder roots were lost/disturbed when you combed the roots out.

Looks very good for your first tree, it took me a long time to quit digging up every seedling I could find room for. Get enough trees to learn how to take care of them but don't blow too much money on regular nursery trees. See if there are any local clubs in your area, nothing beats hands on experience and help.
Fortunately, I guess barberries are cheap because I picked this one up for relatively nothing in prime gardening season here. While I don't mind experimenting a bit on this one, it actually has a pretty thick trunk for a store bought plant so ideally I'd like to keep it alive. Few people on another site have suggested I go ahead and attempt a pretty drastic cut back, as well as a minor root pruning to see what happens. I'll post soon with any progress/failures I make.

Hopefully there is some sort of club around here so I can get some first hand experience, although I'm generally pretty bogged down with activities these days to attend much.

Thanks for the response!

Hi Matt. Ive got a few of these i collected and have been working for a couple years now. Do all your major branch pruning while dormant, in late winter before spring. You could go ahead and do some pruning of secondary branches to remove any upward and downward growing branches, but i would wait to take them off. You definately need to loose any branches across from each other. Pick one and loose the other. Also, its too late to bareroot here, but its a bit warmer here , so you should be ok. Be careful when you wire and bend any branches. Its best to wrap them with something, raffia, rubber tape, etc. to help to keep from breaking. They grow pretty quick outdoors when planted, so if your going to get it bigger first, then loose the branches, and let grow for a couple years. If your good with the size of the trunk, then go ahead and start your refinement. I tend to be more on the safe side, so it might be ok to chop now depending on your area. I would check with someone local to get some input also. What type of barberry is it?
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The tag from the nursery said rose glow
I have a small one that I'm working on and I've found them to be very vigorous. To give you an idea, the one I got two springs ago was in a sale pile and looked pretty sickly at about 16" tall - I repotted it that weekend, cutting probably half the roots off and chopped it back to about 5". It exploded in growth that year, so last spring, I worked the rootball very hard, probably removing about 75% of the root mass to flatten the root pad and develop nebari. It was a bit slow growth wise last year, but this spring it has put out a ton of growth all over.

It had only cost me $5 or $10, so I didn't mind if it died. But, it might be worth going a little more conservatively.
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Well after talking with someone who had an amazing barberry bonsai, I went ahead and did some pruning on it. I am going to wait until next spring to touch the roots for the most part though. Here is what I've done so far. Too much, too little? Anyone see any obvious cuts I need to make now that its easier to see the inside?


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You can really see the trunk now. I like the taper that it has, so i would take any branches that are coming out in the same elevation on the trunk. If you have more than one branch anywhere, it will cause it to bulge out in that spot. Then, i would maybe put some wire on the branches your keeping, and train them to grow slightly downward. If you going to keep the large branch, then prune it to keep it from getting any larger and more out of proportion. You will let the leader of the other branches that need to thicken up grow out until it reaches the size you want, then start chasing it in again. You can see where the top area is starting to get some reverse taper from the bulge. Its hard to see exactly where some of the branches come out of the trunk, but just remember after the leaves come back in, you will want spaces between your pads. Take off any upward or downward growing branches first, and study the tree as much as you can. You cant put them back on, so make sure its what you want. I take a white or dark color towel and wrap it over the branch im thinking about loosing to get an idea of what it would look like without it. Make sure you take any new growth that appears on the lower trunk off as soon as it shows itself.
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There is a bit of reverse taper where you see the majority of the branches coming out. I am not sure how to solve that problem, outside of chopping below it which would remove nearly every branch. Doing that would be something I would be more comfortable waiting until next spring to do. There are about seven branches coming from the area with reverse taper... bummer isn't it

Right now it looks like I'm best suited for a broom style, just because it is easier to hide mistakes for me that way :)

Here's what I'm thinking and a virt of what someone drew for me.


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