Mahonias make bold, often dramatically architectural, foliage plants. Rows of rich green, holly-like leaflets are elegantly laid out to make distinctive leaves. Most varieties tend to be upright in growth, spreading more as they mature, so they make fine back-of-the-border focal points.
In late summer, autumn and winter the frost-hardy flowers appear. The most stylish are those producing long strings of dainty yellow flowers. Different varieties open from late summer through the winter until as late as March and feature an attractive, though not intense, fragrance that’s said to resemble lily-of-the-valley. They’re popular with winter bumblebees.
If sparrows leave the flowers alone – it’s the forms of Mahonia aquifolium that seem least troubled – blue-black berries develop to provide another season of colour. Once most of them mature, they’re ideal hosts for summer-flowering clematis.
More winter-flowering plants:
Discover five of the best mahonias to grow.
Mahonia aquifolium ‘Apollo’
Small and bushy with clusters of yellow flowers and blue-black berries. Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Height x spread: 1m x 1.5m.
Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’
A smaller type with slender foliage and flowers that may open as early as August. Good in pots.
H x S: 1m x 1m.
Mahonia x media ‘Charity’
Has bold 60cm leaves and elegant arches of dainty blooms. Can reach 3m high, but takes a while.
H x S: 3m x 3m.
Mahonia x media ‘Lionel Fortescue’
Smaller, neatly angled leaflets in very long pairings; the flowers are held in a ring of upright spikes. AGM.
H x S: 3m x 3m.
Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’
Flowering concentrated in winter; the tightly packed flower spikes are held vertically, making a golden crown. AGM.
H x S: 3m x 2m.
How to grow mahonia
- Position: all are happy in full sun, overhead shade for part of the day or in shade from the side
- Care: most soils are suitable, but not continuously wet ones. Generally hardy. Mulch in autumn with weed-free organic matter. Feeding isn’t usually necessary
- Pruning: no regular pruning, but extended shoots on Mahonia x media can be cut back to a sideshoot or a rosette of foliage after flowering to improve their shape. Mahonia aquifolium may need occasional shaping