Mahonia is an interesting evergreen shrub that is closely related to barberry. It is a slow-growing shrub with large leathery leaves that resemble holly leaves.
Mahonia is one of the earliest blooming of the spring shrubs, sometimes beginning to flower as early as late February. Fragrant clusters of bright yellow flowers form at the tips of each branch and last through most of spring. If pollinated, the flowers give rise to grape-shaped fruit that mature to a beautiful inky blue or deep purple.
There are several species of Mahonia that are popular for landscape plantings. Andre has two species in his extensive gardens; Mahonia bealei and Mahonia repens.
An upright species which grows to 12' tall. This species is native to China but has naturalized in many areas of the US. It has actually become invasive in some regions of the country. Mahonia bealei is known for its extremely fragrant flowers which are very attractive to honey bees.
This species is native to the Pacific Northwest region of North America. It has an upright habit like Mahonia bealei but it normally grows to just 6'. It is one of the more popular Mahonia species and is not considered to be invasive. The attractive yellow flowers are slightly fragrant but not nearly as fragrant as M. bealei. The fruit of Oregon Grape-holly matures to a lovey blue-black color in late summer/early fall. The foliage turns a lovey deep maroon in the fall.
A low growing form that makes a wonderful native ground cover for the shade. Andre has it planted as a ground cover in one of his large shade gardens where it thrives under deciduous hollies, crape myrtles, and crabapples. M. repens grows only to about 12" tall and spreads by underground stems. It is drought tolerant and makes a great ground cover for dry shade such as that found under many deciduous trees. This species is native to western North America.
If planted in part shade, Mahonia is drought tolerant once established. It makes an interesting addition to a dry, shady area where it is difficult to grow other plants. It is especially well-suited to woodland gardens because it is deer resistant and the fruit attracts a variety of birds. The fragrant yellow flowers brighten the landscape in early spring right when the garden begins to awaken.
Mahonia prefers rich, well-drained soils that are slightly acidic. Plant in part to full shade. In colder regions, place these shrubs where they are protected from strong winds which could cause winter damage to the evergreen foliage. For the best fruit production, plant at least two shrubs to ensure good pollination. Fertilize in spring and again in the fall with Espoma Holly-tone. Hardy in Zones 5-8. May grow in Zone 4 with winter protection.