Low-growing, low-maintenance cotoneaster is a good alternative to barberry. Although it isn’t a dead ringer, many of the smaller mounding varieties have compact dimensions similar to Berberis thunbergii. Cotoneaster dammeri and its cultivar, ‘Coral Beauty’, have persistent foliage, while the deciduous varieties display excellent autumn color. Although many cotoneasters can tolerate partial shade, they prefer full sun.
Tim Wood, of Spring Meadow Nursery in Michigan, suggests Weigela ‘Midnight Wine’—with its dwarf stature, dark burgundy foliage and tolerance of partial shade—as another good alternative. Plus, it has flowers and no thorns. He also recommends Buxus ‘Green Velvet’. “It’s the hardiest, best-looking boxwood,” Tim offers, “and it’s so shade tolerant that it will survive under a dense tree canopy. Not many shrubs will do that.”