Mahonia is also known as the Oregon grape, which points to its North American origins. The small blueish fruits (or grapes) follow a display of fragrant, golden yellow flowers. These winter blooms provide an invaluable source of pollen and nectar for winter-active bees and other pollinators when there’s little else in flower. With their evergreen spiny foliage, mahonias look fantastic underplanted with contrasting foliage plants that also thrive in shade, for example elephant’s ears, fringe cups and epimedium.
Where to plant mahonia
For best results grow mahonias in moist but well-drained soil, in partial shade.
Find out about the different mahonia varieties in this video clip with Carol Klein, from Gardeners’ World:
How to plant mahonia
Dig a generous hole, adding well-rotted compost and a sprinkling of micorrhizal fungi. Plant the mahonia, making sure the rootball sits just below the soil’s surface, and firm in well.
Watch Monty Don plant a mahonia in this TV clip from Gardeners’ World:
How to care for mahonias
Prune every other year to encourage bushy growth and apply a mulch of well-rotted garden compost or manure around the base of the plant in spring and autumn.
How to propagate mahonias
Mahonias can be successfully propagated by layering or stem cuttings in June and July. Here, Carol Klein shows you how to take stem cuttings from an evergreen mahonia, using a special technique to cope with its large leaves:
Growing mahonias: problem solving
Mahonias are generally pest-free, but look out for rusts and powdery mildew in dry weather.
Mahonia varieties to grow
- Mahonia x media – with typical bright yellow, fragrant flowers from late autumn to late winter. It looks particularly good at the back of borders
- Mahonia aquifolium ‘Apollo’ – a compact cultivar, that grows in a neat spreading dome. The glossy, dark green leaves, flush purple in winter with the characteristic yellow flowers appearing in early spring, followed by blue-black berries
- Mahonia repens – a creeping Oregon grape with a low-growing habit, this makes great groundcover in shady areas. The attractive foliage turns purplish in winter and bright yellow, fragrant flowers appear in spring
- Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ – with an upright habit and long leaves. Stalks of bright yellow, fragrant flowers are produced at the ends of branches from late autumn to late winter
- Mahonia x media ‘Underway’ – a compact mahonia with an upright habit. Its bright yellow, fragrant flowers are produced in late autumn, earlier than other mahonias, followed by blue-black berries
- Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’ – a new variety with finely divided soft evergreen, bamboo-like foliage.It looks completely different to other mahonias and the yellow flowers appear in lates summer and autumn