Mahonia Soft Caress, fern-like leaves for a Japanese garden

With surprising bamboo-like leafage, the Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ is a unique standalone that will single-handedly transport you to the Far East.

Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ key facts

Name – Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’
Family – Barberry family
Type – sub-shrub, evergreen

Height – up to 3 feet tall, 5 wide (1m x 1.5m)
Exposure – part sun or shade

Soil – ordinary to rich
Blooming – fall (September to November)
Harvest – spring (May-June)

It’s also a very stylish plant with graphical leafage that will do great in modern designer gardens.

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How to plant Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’

Transplanting Mahonia ‘Soft caress’ from the store

Usually, Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ is sold in pots.

  • The best season to transplant them to the ground is Spring or Fall, right after purchasing.
  • Planting in the ground directly after purchasing will make for only a single move. Changing the growing conditions only once is much better to reduce transplant shock than moving or handling the plant several times.

Follow these guidelines on planting a shrub like Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’.

Where to plant your Soft Caress

Unlike other mahonias, this hybrid can still thrive even if drainage isn’t optimal.

It grows best in shade or part shade, so you can plant it in the following situations:

  • North-facing side of the house (or South-facing if you’re in Australia or New Zealand)
  • At the brink of your tree forest
  • Under taller trees
  • In a shrub bed or flower bed around the house, near a wall, or to the side of a garden shed.

Propagating and multiplying the Mahonia Soft Caress

Cuttings and layering

Since it’s protected by a plant patent, it’s technically illegal to propagate the plant from cuttings. Layering isn’t allowed either. This is because both these methods produce exact clones of the plant.

These techniques do work very well, though, so if your shrub is dying you can snip a branch off and help it survive!

Note that for cuttings, best is to select stems at the end of summer.

When air-layering or marcotting, remember to stake the branch you’re working with.

  • The extra weight of the soil and small cuts weaken the branch.
  • On Soft Caress, they aren’t as strong and might break before the marcot is ready.

Reproduction through seeds

If you’re willing to risk growing a plant that will probably be slightly different, however, you can recover seeds from your Soft Caress and plant those!

  • The difference in the offspring is due to the phenomenon of cross-pollination.
  • Nearby native mahonia or naturalized specimens will pollinate your Soft Caress and a new hybrid will arise!
  • Since they would probably be a cross of different species, many of the seeds will probably come out sterile, if ever the fruits set. However, statistically, a few hybrid seeds should form and some might grow into new plants!
  • Common mahonia is the “M. aquifolia” species, whereas the ‘Soft caress’ is a special cultivar of the Mahonia eurybracteata species.

Clump division

This Mahonia will send out shoots from the root crown. It’s possible to split the plant clump with a sharp spade.

  • Spring is the best time to divide this plant.

Mahonia Soft Caress care

Watering

Apart from the first year, when the plant is still working on spreading its roots out, you won’t need to water your soft caress very often.

  • Water over the first year every fortnight in summer and only once a month in winter, if it doesn’t rain.
  • Later on, in case of drought or strong heat wave, watering a bit will help the plant stay beautiful.

You can also cut the need to water over all with hydrocrystals. These are mixed in with the soil upon planting in tiny amounts, but for five years they’ll regulate water and help the plant grow without any need to water at all.

Fertilizer for Soft Caress

It doesn’t require much fertilizer. Simply using mulch will both help keep the ground cool and break down into useful nutrients.

  • Unlike other Mahonia species that prefer mineral mulch, you can use plant based mulch for your Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’.

Pruning and Trimming Soft Caress Mahonias

There usually isn’t any need to prune the plant, since it stays smallish even when mature. It’ll rarely grow any taller than 1 yard or meter.

If it grows to more that 1 yard or meter wide, it means new shoots are growing from the roots or from fresh new seedlings.

Since it’s a slow grower, it’s easy to keep under control. If you do need to “shrink” it, spring is the time to do it.

  • If you wish to prune it, best prune in early spring.
  • Simply cut it back by a third for best results.
  • Pruning it back every three years will help it grow lush and dense.

Soft Caress Winter and Summer care

Reddened Soft Caress Mahonia leaves.Winter care

This shrub is quite hardy, coping well with cold weather dropping down to 14-15°F (-10°C).

  • Remember, however, that this shrub likes part shade and shade. This means it must be sheltered from strong winds.
  • In open ground, it won’t be as hardy.

You can protect it in winter if it gets any colder. It’s normal for leaves to turn red when the cold gets too harsh. New, green leaves will grow back in spring.

Summer care

It will help to spread mulch at the foot of your Soft Caress so that the soil doesn’t dry out.

  • Mulch will reduce evaporation and keep the ground cooler
  • You won’t need to water except during the hottest days, and then only just a bit.
  • Mahonia Soft Caress will thrive with any type of mulch. It needn’t only be acidic or mineral.

Diseases and pests on ‘Soft Caress’

There aren’t many diseases or pests that will attack your plant.

Even though there aren’t any spikes, deer aren’t very fond of the plant.

Learn more about the ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia

Beautiful and rare appeal, all year long

In summer, leaves of the ‘Soft Caress’ are aptly named: they sway with the breeze in a soft and fragrant way. They’re long and thin, much like those of bamboo.

Unlike common Mahonia, this shrub doesn’t have any spikes or thorns, whether on the stems or on the leaves.

The deep, olive-green color of the leaves contrast magnificently with the gold yellow blooming, a heart-warming sight during drab fall and winter days. With mild to cold weather, blooming will last up to three weeks.

It’s perfectly possible to eat the berries that form afterwards: ‘Soft Caress’ berries are edible, for instance in the form of Mahonia berry jam. You can even eat them raw, although there are a few precautions to note.

The foliage is evergreen, meaning it will stay on the plant over winter. Come spring, older fronds die out and are replaced with newer ones.

Origin of the Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’

The mother species of this special cultivar is Mahonia eurybracteata, with full name Mahonia eurybracteata subspecies ganpanensis.

  • It grows in the wild in China.

Although the wild species has many of the same characteristics, the one commonly found in garden centers is the ‘Soft Caress’ variety.

Selecting this particular variety and patenting it made it possible for the discovering nurseries to protect their investment. A plant patent makes it possible to control distribution.

‘Soft Caress’ is a variety protected by a plant patent (#PP20183). This means it’s not allowed to propagate and sell the plant without permission from the patent holder.

  • According to current laws and regulations, this patent will expire on September 27th, 2026.
  • From that date on, it will be possible to propagate the plant on your own for whatever purpose you intend!

Smart tip about the Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’

Plant Soft Caress in pots or planters, it will do great on a deck, terrace or patio!


Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Soft Caress leafage, green by Megan Hansen under © CC BY-SA 2.0
Red leaves on Soft Caress by Rosewoman under © CC BY 2.0