Mahonia is a simply astounding shrub during winter.
Yellow flowers burst forth from the deep evergreen leaves for a beautiful and delicately fragrant winter garden.
Main Mahonia facts
Name – Mahonia
Family – Berberidaceae
Type – shrub
Height – 3 to 6 ½ feet (1 to 2 meters)
Exposure – full sun, part sun, shade
Soil – ordinary
Foliage – evergreen
Flowering – January to April
Caring for this plant from planting to pruning will ensure that you’ll have nice growth and beautiful blooming.
Plant your mahonia in fall or spring but avoid frost spells and high temperatures.
If, for any reason, you must plant it in the sun, avoid places that would be too hot and if possible favor part sun.
- It doesn’t require sunlight and will grow perfectly fine in the shade.
- It loves cool soil with a lot of humus. Stacking plant mulch around it is ideal.
- Refer to our guidelines for planting shrubs.
Whether it be propagated through seeds, cuttings, or dividing suckers, mahonia boasts an array of options to multiply it.
- Learn more about Mahonia seeds
However, cuttings and sucker division are the easiest and quickest methods.
Prepare mahonia cuttings at the end of of the summer, on soft-wood growth.
- Collect stems from new growth.
- Remove lower pairs of leaves, keeping only the topmost one or two pairs at the crest.
- Dip the base of the cuttings in powdered rooting agents (an optional but recommended step).
- Put the cuttings in special cutting soil mix, under some kind of shelter to avoid direct sunlight.
- More on preparing cuttings and caring for them
Division from suckers is best performed in spring.
- You can plant the suckers directly in the ground with a mix of soil mix and garden soil.
- You can also have them grow roots in nursery pots first and then transfer them to the ground in fall.
Pruning and caring for mahonia
Pruning isn’t really needed but it may help make the foliage more dense or to reboost the vigor of your mahonia.
If you wish to reduce or rebalance the shrub:
- Prune your mahonia after the blooming season.
- Never cut branches back by more than ⅓ their length.
- Remove dead or sick branches.
Watering must be regular albeit with small quantities during the first year, especially if it was planted in spring.
After that, watering is needed in case of high temperatures or prolonged dry spells.
In summer, mulch the base of the shrub in order to retain a certain moisture level and also avoid weed growth.
Mahonia berries are edible! They’re very tart, somewhat like currant. Despite their unique taste, adding them to fruit salad, yoghurt and other desserts is a real treat.
It’s also a great fruit to make jam and jelly.
- All about cooking mahonia berries
- Keeping mahonia berries for later
- Eating? Cooking? Maybe start with harvesting mahonia berries!
- A word of caution, though: Mahonia isn’t for everyone
The flowers of the Mahonia plant are also edible. Their fragrance and taste are similar, somewhat close to that of honey.
- Remember to leave some for the bees, too! It’s one of the rare available flowers for bees to forage in that season.
Varieties and species of Mahonia
70 species of winter-blooming joy
Native to either Asia or North America, Mahonia numbers over 70 species. Different species evolved in different areas.
You’ll find these very appealing: ‘aquifolium’, ‘bealii’, ‘japonica’, ‘lomariifolia’ and ‘wagneri’.
Discover each of these wonderful species and cultivars here:
- Types and varieties of Mahonia
The two hardiest Mahonia species are Mahonia aquifolium and Mahonia repens. These even survive the harsh winter colds of Siberia! They originally grew in certain regions of North America, in the Northwest – hence the common name for these species, “Oregon grape holly”.
Although cross-pollination doesn’t often result in hybridization, several astounding mahonia hybrids are available in nursery stores.
Other outstanding mahonia varieties include:
- Mahonia eurybracteata – a yellow bloomer with thin, elongated leaves that is perfect for Japanese gardens. Indeed, leafage looks like bamboo! It is native to certain regions of China.
You can even nurture dwarf mahonia cultivars in pots on a terrace or balcony.
Learn more about mahonia
The name “Mahonia“ was chosen to honor the American botanist Bernard Mc Mahon.
- The official French name for this shrub is mahonie. This shows the worldwide influence that great botanists have around the world!
The spectacular blooming of mahonia makes it one of the rare shrubs to bear such floral bunches over winter. It matches that of the taller winter mimosa tree.
With its very ornamental appearance, this prickly, leathery-leaved shrub will appeal to you anytime of the year. As an added surprise, you’ll discover that the flowers are deliciously scented! They release a honey-like smell that is even more fragrant during the night. Perfect for any fragrant garden!
Mahonia fears neither cold nor freezing since it can withstand temperatures falling to -4°F (-20° C).
A very beneficial plant
There are many benefits to growing a Mahonia shrub in your garden. Of course, the bees we mentioned above relish its nectar, but there are also many other reasons:
Smart tip about Mahonia
Mahonia on social media
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Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Mahonia flowers (also on social media) by Anand Buchwald under Pixabay license
Mahonia berries by Hans Braxmeier under Pixabay license
Tip of a blooming mahonia (also on social media) by Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois, own work