In my previous blog, we talked about the benefits of planting pungent flowers such as catnip, rue, and geranium in order to chase away tick populations. However, there are also a variety of plants that ticks gravitate towards. One such pestilent species is the Japanese barberry, a prime hiding spot for the blood-sucking parasites.

The Japanese barberry is a sharp, spine-covered and invasive shrub native to Asia which grows 3 to 6 feet tall and was introduced in the United States in 1864. Due to its affordability, attractiveness, hardiness, and disease resistance it is a popular choice for homeowners looking to add to their garden. But the plant is so controversial that it was banned for sale in the state of New York in the spring of 2015, and other states and regions (such as Pennsylvania) have strongly considered prohibiting its sale. So, what makes the Japanese barberry such a dubious choice for your garden?

One of the main issues is the shrubs ability to proliferate rapidly – birds ingest the fruits of the barberry, facilitating its spread. Additionally, ticks prefer humid places and the barberry serves as an optimal shelter with plenty of humidity. Sarah Wurzbacher, a forester with Penn State Extension, notes that “to a tick, a barberry is a skyscraper; it’s got this huge protective cover that provides this little microclimate on the forest floor”.

If this were not problematic enough, white-footed mice and other small rodents are among the most common vectors for ticks, and they happen to thrive in Japanese barberry. The dense, impenetrable stands protect them from predators and provide optimal nesting sites. In short, the Japanese barberry is the perfect location for ticks to multiply. Researchers at the University of Connecticut have proven this belief right by conducting a study and finding that tick numbers are much higher in areas with Japanese barberry. The results were conclusive, and according to Professor Scott Williams they found “120 infected ticks where Barberry is not contained, 40 ticks per acre where Barberry is contained, and only 10 infected ticks where there is no Barberry”.

While the Japanese barberry may be a tempting purchase for a number of reasons, if you care about minimizing the number of cases of Lyme disease, consider avoiding the plant altogether. If you have a barberry you are looking to dispose of, MDA weed specialists suggest cutting, pulling, or digging small infestations. When disposing of the plants, make sure the roots are exposed and will dry out to prevent re-rooting. Burning the plants or applying foliar herbicide are alternative options.

It’s spring gardening season which is a good time to consider removing your Japanese barberry.