Growing Things: Backyard Barbarism Bushes Don’t Grow

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Q In the summer of 2020, we planted a row of barberry bushes in our backyard, which faces west, because we wanted something low maintenance to help cover the deck’s outline. Since then, the bushes have not died, but they have not grown an inch. We professionally made them as part of the backyard landscaping in our newly built home, and the landscapers claimed to have installed a foot of good soil, but who knows if they actually did. Do you think we should take them out and start with new plants or another variety?

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ONE: This question came from a fellow Edmonton Journal writer and I have to admit that the opening line of the email made me laugh. It said, “You’re probably like my son, the doctor who always has people asking about his rashes and back pain.” The social gatherings I attend often turn out to be gardening Q&As, but these events, like the questions I get from my readers, are always appreciated and appreciated.

It is possible that the barberry variety is Crimson Pygmy, which is a dwarf that grows from 30 to 60 cm tall. The plants look healthy enough from your photo to make me think this is a possibility. I also see new growth on some of the plants, but the mulch may be too close to the base of the plants. Some plants don’t like to have coverage too close together due to lack of air circulation. I could pull up the mulch a bit to let the roots breathe.

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I don’t suspect the soil as the plants look healthy, but I would if they weren’t dwarfs. A foot of new soil should be enough to keep them happy if indeed the landscapers were true to their word.

If it were me, I wouldn’t replace the plants as they seem to be in good health. They really only had one full season to grow up too. Be patient, but see if you can find out if the landscapers used dwarves. They may say no, but I have had circumstances where I ordered full-size plants and the nursery accidentally replaced dwarfs.

A late reply from the writer tells me that the plants were indeed dwarfs and they were grateful they hadn’t uprooted them. My work is done here!

P: Can you tell me how I can take stakes out of a cotoneaster? I would like to start a long hedge, but I need so many plants that the cost would be prohibitive. I’m hoping to take just cuts.

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ONE: I would recommend using the softwood method. These cuttings are taken in spring from fast-growing stem tips. Take cuttings early in the morning by selecting healthy, flexible, single-stemmed shoots. Prepare these cuttings as soon as possible after collection. Trim the cuttings eight to 10 cm by making a straight cut just below a knot. Remove the lower leaves. An absolute must is to use a very sharp knife to make this cut.

The soil mixture for the cuttings should be a mixture of equal parts peat and perlite or sharp sand. Insert the cuttings into the soil mixture and water them. Insert the cuttings into the mixture ensuring that the leaves do not touch. If you want to ensure your success rate, using a rooting hormone is a good idea. You can find rooting powder at most garden centers. Be sure to select the one for softwood stakes as there are different types.

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Softwood cuttings will wither quickly if not kept in a damp environment. You can cover the jars or bowls with clear plastic and keep them out of direct sunlight. Air them out every few days for good air circulation, or leave one side of the lid slightly open. Keep them at a temperature of 18-21 C.

Once the cuttings have taken root, harden them. Remove the rooted cuttings from the pot or flat by carefully separating them. Transplant them into individual pots, firming them up. Water well and keep them in a shady place until they are well established.

Learn more by sending your questions to [email protected], reading previous columns at or my book Just Ask Jerry. You can also follow me on Twitter @justskjerry01.

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