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Plant Mahonia For Year-round Appeal
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
The Mahonia is one of those plants that you don't think about growing until you see your neighbors' Mahonia blooming in January. Anything that blooms this time of the year is worthy of a closer look.
From my perspective, the Mahonia deserves a place in the landscape similar to a piece of statuary, as an accent near the front door or just off the patio. I have seen very nice mass plantings. They're in the barberry family and have distinctive evergreen foliage that will be different colors throughout the year. This plant seems to always be attractive and command attention.
Mahonias are not all that hard to find at garden centers, but they are not the staples of the nursery, either.
I have seen them thrive in full sun to partial shade, but I sense those that are happiest in the South have only filtered light during the hottest times of the day. The Mahonia looks best as part of a shrub bed. You will be most unhappy growing the Mahonia mix with turf.
Prepare your soil by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and two pounds of a 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area. Till the soil eight to 10 inches deep.
Dig the planting hole three to five times as wide as the rootball but no deeper. Place the plant in the hole and backfill with soil to two-thirds the depth. Tamp the soil and water to settle, add the remaining backfill, repeat the process and apply mulch.
Moisture is critical the first year, so water deeply when required. Feed established plantings in March with a slow released balanced fertilizer like an 8-8-8 at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet.
The Mahonia is not considered a high maintenance plant. It is related to the nandina and has the same cultural habits. Prune out about one-third of the old woody canes to encourage new young shoots.
The bright yellow fragrant blossoms and busy bees give a breath of spring this time of the year. The blossoms will give way to steel blue fruit that are formed in huge clusters, commanding attention from us and the birds that devour them. Everyone needs at least one.
We grow two basic types or species of Mahonias in the South. The Mahonia aquifolium also called Oregon Holly Grape reaches three to five feet in height. The new holly-like growth has a bronze-to-red coloring turning to deep glossy green. The leaves are purple-red in the fall. This plant is sold generically but there are varieties like Golden Abundance, Kings Ransom and Flame that have gained attention.
The other species is Mahonia bealei, or Leatherleaf Mahonia. There are more southern suppliers of the Leatherleaf Mahonia than the Oregon Holly Grape. It is the taller of the two, reaching four to six feet in height and occasionally close to 10 feet. The mature width will be four to five feet. These two Mahonias are strikingly exotic in the landscape and are showy at a time when not much else is happening.
You need to take a survey of your landscape and see where they might add enjoyment with their beauty.