21 Showy Shrubs to Plant Instead of Japanese Barberry

Are you searching for some shrubs to fill your landscape? You may be tempted to grow Japanese barberry because it is familiar and widely used commercially, but know that there are many showy and better-behaved alternatives to this invasive species. In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen offers 21 fantastic alternatives to growing Japanese barberry in your landscape.

A sunlit Japanese barberry showcases vibrant foliage and clusters of red fruits, basking in the warm glow

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When you visit the garden center, you will have many appealing plants, some of which are familiar, and some may not be as well known. But did you know that some of those common garden center plants may be invasive in your area? Japanese barberry is one of many invasive species commonly sold at garden centers and plant nurseries.

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is a deciduous shrub native to Japan. It is listed as an invasive species in most of the northeastern United States. It spreads rapidly throughout any favorable habitat and easily reaches into neighboring natural areas because birds eat and disperse the seeds. These plants then form dense stands of thick vegetation in fields, forests, and wetlands, quickly outcompeting native species. If you already have Japanese barberry on your property, you’ll want to completely remove it before adding your chosen replacements. 

There are shrubs to fill any part of your landscape. It doesn’t matter if you have a large sunny yard, a shaded woodland, a small urban yard, or a patio garden; you will be able to find suitable shrubs for your landscape. Learn your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone to help you select plants that will be hardy in your region.

Read on as we introduce 21 beautiful and easy-to-grow showy shrubs with plenty of curb appeal that you can use to replace Japanese barberry.

American Beautyberry

Sunlit purple American beautyberries, surrounded by lush green leaves, showcasing nature's palette in a close-up.
Tiny clusters of white flowers attract pollinators before developing into bright berries.
botanical-name botanical name Callicarpa americana
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 3 – 8 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 6 – 10

American beautyberry is a deciduous shrub native to the southeastern United States. This plant typically grows in partially shaded brushy thickets and woodland edges with moist-well-drained soil. It’s very easy to grow as a landscaping plant and provides long-season interest and beauty. It makes an excellent accent plant for your butterfly garden, native plant garden, or wildlife-friendly habitat. 

In late spring and early summer, tiny clusters of pale pink or white flowers line the stems of the American beautyberry. The flowers are showy yet modest and attract butterflies and other pollinators. Following the flowers, American beautyberry starts to develop its namesake beautiful berries.

These berries start green, and depending on the variety, they will develop into rounded clumps of bright pinkish-purple or white berries lining the stems. These fruits provide a much-loved food source for fall and winter birds and small mammals. 

Azalea

A close-up of pink azalea blossoms against a backdrop of delicate green foliage, showcasing intricate petal details.
These plants enhance curb appeal with their colorful blossoms.
botanical-name botanical name Rhododendron spp.
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 6 – 10 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 – 8

Azaleas are a diverse group of plants with a great number of cultivars. The popular landscaping azaleas are common, easy to grow, and immensely showy. They perform well in full sun and partial shade and are a wonderful shrub to add some dazzling color to your shade garden. Azaleas prefer moist, well-drained soil. The soil should also be rich in organic matter and acidic for best performance and longevity. 

Azaleas bloom in early to mid-spring. An azalea shrub in full bloom is covered by colorful blossoms. These shrubs make excellent accent plants or shrub borders. They also look wonderful planted in small groups with the same or different colored flowers. These colorful blossoms attract butterflies and other pollinators and boost your home’s curb appeal. 

Bottlebrush Buckeye

Tall white bottlebrush buckeye flowers bloom gracefully, their slender stems reaching towards the sky, contrasted against verdant leaves below.
The bottlebrush buckeye’s spidery white-pink flowers resemble white bottlebrushes.
botanical-name botanical name Aesculus parviflora
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 8 – 12 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 – 9

Bottlebrush buckeye is a medium to large-sized shrub native to the southeastern United States. This plant loves a shaded site with rich, moist, well-drained soil. It will spread to form colonies and would be an excellent plant for a naturalized wetland border or to cultivate as a thick hedgerow. 

Bottlebrush buckeye is a lovely addition to your woodland pollinator garden. It blooms in the summertime and has loose bunches of showy, tubular flowers. The flowers are white with a touch of pink and very long stamens, giving them a somewhat spidery look. At peak bloom, these flowers do, indeed, make this shrub appear to be covered with little white bottlebrushes. In the fall, enjoy the showy yellow foliage.

Camellia

Red camellia blooms contrast beautifully against lush green foliage, creating a striking display of color.
The camellias are low-maintenance and suitable for moderately warm climates.
botanical-name botanical name Camellia japonica
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial shade
height height 10 – 13 feet 
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 7 – 9

Camellias are native to Asia and are extremely popular landscaping shrubs for southeastern gardeners. Their popularity is reflected by the immense number of cultivars with highly varied flower colors, including single and double forms, in a wide range of pink, red, white, and bicolored blossoms. Abundant, fragrant flowers typically bloom in late fall and winter and are a big hit with late-season pollinators. Their glossy evergreen leaves provide year-round greenery and make excellent hedges and privacy borders.

Camellias thrive in a partially shaded location. They require moist, well-drained soil that’s both acidic and rich in organic matter. They will grow only in moderately warm climates although there are a few cultivars that are a bit more winter-hardy. In favorable climates, camellias are a wonderful addition to the landscape. They are low-maintenance, long-lived, and very attractive.

Chinese Fringeflower

A close-up of purple Chinese fringeflowers with delicate petals basking in sunlight, surrounded by lush green leaves.
This blooms early with vibrant fringe-like flowers in white and pink.
botanical-name botanical name Loropetalum chinense
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 6 – 8 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 7 – 9

Chinese fringeflower is a very versatile shrub for almost any landscape. These plants are native to temperate and tropical Asia and prefer mild climates, performing very well in the southeastern United States. They do well in both full sun and partial shade and thrive in average-quality, moist, well-drained soil. 

Do you look forward to early season color? The Chinese fringeflower is sure to please. The eye-catching fringe-like flowers may be either white, pink, or brilliant deep fuschia. They bloom early in the season and the colorful blossoms appear to cover the entire shrub with color. Chinese fringeflower foliage may be green, variegated, or plum colored, remaining evergreen or semi-evergreen for four-season appeal.

Common Lilac

A close-up of common lilac flowers unfurl in a cluster, contrasting against lush green foliage in the backdrop.
Commercially available lilac cultivars offer various heights and colors.
botanical-name botanical name Syringa vulgaris
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 8 – 16 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 7

The sweet smell of lilac flowers in the spring is a powerful experience. These fragrant flowering shrubs are native to Europe and prefer cooler climates. They will do well in full sun or light shade with well-drained soil. The common lilac is prone to powdery mildew and other leaf fungus diseases. Prune your lilac to improve airflow, maintain a tidy appearance, and reduce unwanted suckering.

There are many commercially available cultivars of the common lilac. You can find dwarf varieties, taller varieties, and a beautiful assortment of pink and purple flower colors. Lilacs make a great hedge plant or ornamental shrub to be the center of attention each spring. They all bloom in the springtime and make excellent cut flowers.

Cotoneaster

A branch from a cotoneaster shrub up close, adorned with red berries and petite leaves, catching the sunlight's glow.
This is a versatile shrub for privacy hedges or borders.
botanical-name botanical name Cotoneaster divaricatus
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 5 – 6 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 – 7

Cotoneaster, also known as spreading cotoneaster, is a deciduous shrub native to China. It has attractive flowers, colorful fruits, and brilliant red fall foliage. A bush in full bloom makes a very showy display with its abundant pink and white blossoms. Masses of small red berries fill the branches in the fall, persisting into the winter months until they are all consumed by hungry birds. 

Cotoneaster is a medium-sized rounded shrub that typically grows wider than it is tall. Use it as a privacy hedge or along a shrubby border. These plants perform well in either full sun or partial shade, making them an ideal choice for growing along a wooded edge. Cotoneaster grows fast and can be pruned to maintain a desired shape and size, although pruning isn’t necessary if you don’t mind its somewhat sprawling nature. 

Dwarf Fothergilla

A close-up of a white fothergilla flower, its petals pristine against a backdrop of blurred blossoms and lush greenery, showcasing nature's intricate beauty.
Its scarlet and orange fall foliage and twisted winter branches keep the landscape intriguing.
botanical-name botanical name Fothergilla gardenii
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 1.5 – 3 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 – 8

Dwarf fothergilla is a fascinating small shrub native to the southeastern United States. It prefers a sunny site or light afternoon shade, especially in warmer climates. Give it a site with rich, moist, acidic, and well-drained soil. Dwarf fothergilla is easy to grow and low-maintenance, although you will want to do some annual pruning to remove root suckers unless you want to grow it as a colony. 

Dwarf fothergilla blooms in mid to late spring before these plants leaf out. The showy white flower clusters are pleasingly fragrant, attracting plenty of pollinators. In the fall, the leaves turn beautiful shades of scarlet and orange. In winter, the densely branching, somewhat twisted stems continue to provide landscape interest in the winter garden.

Dwarf Japanese Maple

A dwarf Japanese maple bush displays red leaves against a backdrop of green foliage, adding a splash of rich color to any garden.
The foliage of this maple is vibrant and eye-catching.
botanical-name botanical name Acer japonicum
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 15 – 30 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 – 7

There are several beautiful varieties of dwarf Japanese maple. Look for cultivars that are best suited for your local climate because they don’t all perform equally well in warmer and colder climates. If you have limited space or want to do some container gardening, choose the smaller varieties, and if you have a bit more room for a more robust plant, look for a larger variety of Japanese maple. 

Dwarf Japanese maples have beautifully showy foliage. In spring, the freshly emerged leaves are glossy and may be bright green or shades of red, depending on the variety. The deeply cut, multi-lobed leaves are very appealing; some even have a feathery appearance as they are ruffled by gentle breezes. In the fall, Japanese maple foliage takes center stage with its brilliant shades of scarlet, orange, and red.

Flowering Quince

Vivid red flowering quince blooms illuminated by sunlight, creating a striking contrast against the deep green foliage in the blurred background.
Its female plants bear edible but bitter fruits used in desserts.
botanical-name botanical name Chaenomeles japonica
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 2 – 3 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 – 9

Flowering quince is a highly versatile shrub that is a welcome addition to many landscape settings. Flowering quince is native to Asia and a member of the rose family. It prefers a partially shaded site with moist, well-drained soil. Use it as an accent plant, grow it in an open spot under some taller trees, or use it as part of a hedge or shrub border.

Flowering quince blooms each spring with colorful, showy flowers. The flowers are typically pink or red but also come in white, yellow, orange, and burgundy, depending on the cultivar. These flowers are lightly fragrant and attract bees and other pollinators to your spring garden.

If you have both male and female plants, watch for the female plants to produce yellowish pear-like quince fruits. These fruits are edible but extremely bitter unless cooked into a delicious fruity dessert or preserves. 

Forsythia

Vibrant forsythia shrubs flaunting their golden leaves against a backdrop of intricate trees.
These versatile shrubs serve as excellent borders or hedges.
botanical-name botanical name Forsythia spp.
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 3 – 10 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 – 8

Forsythia is a familiar shrub with showy yellow flowers that bloom reliably each spring. One of the earliest flowering shrubs, the flowers appear before leaf out, making these shrubs look like entirely yellow branching mounds. There are a number of different forsythia cultivars, each with slight variations in flowers, size, and growth habit. 

Forsythias are easy to grow and widely adaptable. They perform well with full sun and partial shade. They aren’t too picky about soil type as long as the soil has good drainage. Forsythias are tolerant of deer, rabbits, poor soil, and drought conditions. Use them as a hedge, foundation planting, or any sort of shrub border along the edge of your property.  

Glossy Abelia

A close-up of white and pink glossy abelia flowers illuminated by sunlight, showcasing intricate petal details and delicate hues.
Plant this for a sweet-smelling hedge or shrub garden addition.
botanical-name botanical name Abelia x grandiflora
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 2 – 8 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 6 – 9

Glossy abelia is a versatile shrub with many beautiful cultivars. In warmer climates, glossy abelia is evergreen, whereas cooler climates usually cause it to lose its leaves for the winter. Abelia leaves are semi-glossy, and some varieties have very showy variegated foliage. Abelia flowers are trumpet-shaped and pleasingly fragrant. The small, loose clusters of typically white or pink flowers bloom anytime from spring through fall.

Glossy abelia makes a great hedge planting. Use this plant as a privacy screen or mix them into a shrub garden. Grow several abelias together to enjoy the sweet smell of their flowers wafting on the air. Once established, these shrubs are hardy and low maintenance, making them a very welcome addition to your yard.

Highbush Blueberry

A thriving highbush blueberry shrub laden with ripe blue fruits stands against a backdrop of lush greenery, basking in the sunlight of a landscape.
This yields sweet fruit by mid-summer with bell-like flowers.
botanical-name botanical name Vaccinium corymbosum
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 6 – 12 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 8

Looking for a showy shrub to incorporate into your edible landscape? The highbush blueberry is a great option. These deciduous shrubs are native to central and eastern North America and provide many landscaping benefits. They are easy to grow, are extremely wildlife-friendly, and produce edible fruits! They also look great from spring through fall. 

In the springtime, the little white bell-like flowers bloom and bring in the pollinators. Grow at least two different blueberry cultivars in your yard to get the best berry yield. Blueberries ripen typically in mid-summer, providing a deliciously sweet treat that you can eat fresh from the plant. In the fall, blueberry bushes have spectacular red fall foliage that’s hard to miss. Blueberries prefer a sunny site with moist, well-drained soil with a low pH.

Hydrangea

White hydrangea blooms adorn a lush shrub near a house, bringing a touch of elegance to the garden.
They boast a diverse array of eye-catching flower colors.
botanical-name botanical name Hydrangea macrophylla
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 3 – 6 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 6 – 11

Hydrangeas are a favorite low-maintenance landscaping plant, known for their spectacular flower clusters. Consider adding any of the vast numbers of colorful cultivars of this deciduous shrub to your partially shaded landscape. Hydrangeas prefer rich, moist soil with good drainage

Hydrangeas are attractive small to medium-sized, multi-stemmed shrubs with a well-rounded shape. They have broad leaves that look full and lush during the growing season. You will find a diverse array of flower colors, including white, pink, blue, and purple. The flowers develop into large rounded clusters, blooming on the previous year’s growth. At peak bloom, hydrangeas are immensely eye-catching!

Ninebark

A close-up of ninebark flower buds, their clusters gleaming in warm sunlight, surrounded by vibrant green leaves.
The ninebark is cultivated for its varied cultivars and attractive features.
botanical-name botanical name Physocarpus opulifolius
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 5 – 8 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 2 – 8

Ninebark is an interesting deciduous shrub with plenty of landscape appeal. It grows best in partial shade but will also do well in full sun, particularly in northern climates. Grow ninebark in a naturalized area where it can spread by root sprouts or keep it pruned into a tidy, rounded shrub in your pollinator garden or native plant garden. 

Ninebark is native to central and eastern North America. It has been extensively cultivated and is available in many beautiful cultivars with showy purple leaves, compact forms, and variations in flower color. Ninebark shrubs typically have snowy white flower clusters and attract springtime pollinators. The foliage is green, yellow, or purple-tinged and generally displays a showy fall color. 

Northern Spicebush

A close-up of Northern spicebush branches, adorned with a solitary cluster of yellow-green flowers.
Clusters of yellow flowers appear on northern spicebush in early spring.
botanical-name botanical name Lindera benzoin
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial shade
height height 8 – 15 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 – 9

Northern spicebush is an ornamental deciduous shrub native to central and eastern North America. It has showy flowers, fruits, and foliage, making it an excellent landscaping plant for a woodland plot. It prefers rich, moist soil and doesn’t tolerate dry or sunny conditions. 

Northern spicebush blooms in the early spring. Before it leafs out for the summer, clusters of yellow flowers show along the bare stems. These plants are dioecious, meaning they have separate male and female plants. If you have at least one of each, they will cross-pollinate and form beautiful, bright red fruits that ripen in the fall and are a favorite of foraging birds.

This is the host plant of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly, so you may see their unusual caterpillars munching on the leaves. The bright yellow fall foliage is also very showy.

Oregon Grape Holly

A vibrant Oregon grape holly shrub, adorned with clusters of yellow flowers, stands amidst lush, glossy foliage, basking in the warm embrace of sunlight.
The fragrant yellow flowers and edible, sour fruits are favored by birds.
botanical-name botanical name Berberis aquifolium
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial shade
height height 3 – 6 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 – 8

The Oregon grape holly, also known as holly-leaved barberry, is in the same genus as the Japanese barberry. Oregon grape holly, however, is native throughout northern North America and doesn’t grow aggressively. It loves shaded woodlands and is a broadleaf evergreen with four-season appeal. 

Oregon grape holly has tough, leathery leaves that resemble holly leaves. These plants, however, develop several upright, leaf-lined stems with bunches of fragrant, bright yellow flowers at the top. After flowering, Oregon grape holly produces clusters of bluish, small, round, fleshy fruits. Birds and other small wildlife feast on the fruits, and if you enjoy making jams and preserves, you can use these sour fruits for canning. 

Red Chokeberry

Vibrant red chokeberry shrub adorned with glossy red fruits and leaves, shining brilliantly in sunlight.
This adaptable shrub attracts wildlife with its vibrant fruits.
botanical-name botanical name Aronia arbutifolia
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 6 – 12 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 9

Red chokeberry is an attractive native shrub from the central and eastern United States and Canada. It grows into a rounded or vase-like form with several trunks. Red chokeberry needs some regular pruning to prevent it from forming dense colonies, although if you are hoping to create a dense shrubby hedge, this is a great low-maintenance choice. In the autumn, watch for the brilliant fall foliage in shades of yellow, orange, and scarlet red.

Red chokeberry is an excellent wildlife plant, attracting springtime pollinators and fall birds that come to feast on the beautiful bright red fruits. While the fruits are edible, they are extremely bitter and are best used in jams and preserves. This shrub is highly tolerant of wet soil conditions but doesn’t require wet soil to perform well in the home landscape. 

Shrubby St. John’s Wort

A close-up of yellow flowers blooming on a shrubby St. John's wort plant, illuminated by sunlight.
Add long-lasting yellow blossoms to your garden with shrubby St. John’s wort.
botanical-name botanical name Hypericum prolificum
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 1 – 5 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 8

Shrubby St. John’s wort is a deciduous shrub native to central and eastern North America. It grows along streams, in moist valleys, and on dry, rocky slopes and fields. This versatile plant tolerates a wide range of different soils and sunlight conditions. These plants are hardy and low-maintenance and rarely have any issues with pests and diseases.

Shrubby St. John’s wort will brighten your summer landscape with its long-lasting, bright yellow blossoms. The flowers are popular with pollinators, and birds will pick apart the fleshy seed capsules. Use shrubby St. John’s wort in your pollinator garden, native plant garden, cottage garden, or naturalized woodland edge for a delightful splash of mid-season color.

Weigela

A close-up of white flowers and pink buds on a weigela shrub, surrounded by lush variegated leaves, creating a springtime scene.
These plants require pruning after flowering for optimal blooming.
botanical-name botanical name Weigela florida
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 6 – 10 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 – 8

Weigela is a very popular landscaping shrub native to Asia. There are a vast number of showy cultivars, including many dwarf and extra compact varieties and those with colorful foliage and spectacular flowers. Weigelas have green, bronze, purple, or variegated leaves. The tubular flowers typically have a long blooming period in spring, and many varieties bloom again in the summer.

When grown in full sun, weigelas will display the most vibrant foliage and flowers, although they do tolerate partially shaded locations quite well. Prune your plants to help maintain an attractive form, but be aware that Weigela blooms on old wood, so pruning should be done immediately after flowering so your plants will have a chance to develop stems for the following year’s flowering. Weigela is a great choice for a shrub border or hedge, and the dwarf varieties work well for container and patio gardens. 

Winterberry Holly

A close-up of red winterberry holly berries nestled among glossy, ovate leaves, evoking a festive feel.
Cross-pollination between different varieties in a landscape enhances fruit production.
botanical-name botanical name Ilex verticillata
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 3 – 15 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 9

Unlike many varieties of holly that keep their leaves all year, the winterberry holly is a deciduous shrub or small tree. Each autumn, the leaves turn yellow, producing a showy fall foliage display before falling off for the winter. But don’t worry, your winterberry holly won’t have bare branches because they’re lined with bright red berries! These little round fruits provide a fabulous food source for hungry winter birds and small mammals

Winterberry holly is an attractive landscaping shrub. There are a number of different cultivars with equally showy leaves and fruits. Planting at least two varieties in the same landscape will ensure cross-pollination and good fruiting. This plant thrives in both full sun and partial shade with moist, acidic, well-drained soil. Grow it as a central accent shrub with plenty of curb appeal.

Final Thoughts

If you’re struggling to find good replacements for invasive shrubs like the Japanese barberry, you’ll be pleased to know how many alternatives there are. No matter what type of landscape you have, sunny or shady, dry soil or moist, you are sure to find some beautifully showy shrubbery for your garden.

Use shrubs for hedges, eye-catching specimens, or subtle background greenery to help diversify and enrich your yard. You should have no trouble creating year-round interest so you can simply relax and enjoy the view.

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