How to Grow and Care For Mahonia

How to Grow and Care For Mahonia

How to Grow and Care For Mahonia

Image by Hans from Pixabay

Mahonia is a genus of shrubs or small trees that are indigenous to Asia and the Americas. Common names for these plants include Oregon grapes, holly grapes, and holly leaved barberries. The fragrant, golden-yellow flowers are followed by tiny blue-grapelike fruits (or fruits). When there isn’t much else in bloom, these winter blooms are a vital source of pollen and nectar for bees and other pollinators that are active during the winter. A variety of birds are drawn to the dark bluish-black berries, and they may find shelter in the dense, green foliage. These upright evergreen shrubs are attractive in part because they provide year-round interest and have deer-resistant spiky foliage. Mahonias grow best in the milder months of spring or fall.

Botanical Name Mahonia Spp.
Family Berberidaceae
Plant Type Shrub
Mature Size 3 to 10 ft.
Sun Exposure Includes full sun, partial sun, and shade
Soil Type Preferred Most Soil Types
Soil pH Various
Bloom Time January – March
Flower Color Yellow, Red
Hardiness Zones Varies
Foliage Evergreen
Native Area North & Central America, Asia
Toxicity None (berries edible)
When To Prune April, May

Planting Mahonia

Mahonia can be planted in the fall or spring, but avoid periods of extreme heat. If planting it in the sun is necessary for any reason, choose a location that won’t get too hot and, if at all possible, plant it in part sun. It can grow in the shade and doesn’t need sunlight to do so. It prefers humus-rich, cool soil. Mulch from plants should be piled around it.

Make a deep hole and fill it with well-rotted compost and micorrhizal fungi. Mahonia should be planted, with the rootball positioned just below the soil’s surface, and firmly rooted in place.

Mahonia Care

Mahonias are well known for being hardy, low-maintenance shrubs that grow slowly. Because they dislike being relocated, choosing the right location is critical to their success. Make sure your shrub has enough room to grow because they don’t like being crowded, and keep it protected from freezing winds that can cause burn in the winter.


Although it can grow in full sun, it prefers some shade, preferably full shade. You can place it almost anywhere in your garden because, unlike many plants, it can thrive in an exposed location as long as it isn’t exposed to freezing winds.

Soil Requirements

The advantage of Mahonia species is that they don’t care all that much about the kind of soil they grow in. They typically thrive in a variety of soil types, including sandy, loamy, clay, and pH ranges. It only needs to be a moist, well-drained soil.


Mahonias typically benefit from routine deep watering while they’re establishing (especially during the first year), but you should avoid waterlogging. They are known for being fairly drought tolerant once established and typically only require watering during hot, dry spells.

Temperature and Humidity

Mahonias typically withstand a wide range of temperatures, with the exception of the risk of foliage burn caused by freezing winds. They typically have a tolerance for temperatures as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit. But if the temperature drops this low, mulching the shrub’s perimeter in the fall to safeguard the roots might be beneficial.


These plants don’t require a strict fertilisation schedule. The recommended amount of fertilisation is an annual spring feeding with a slow-release, low-nitrogen fertiliser, a thick layer of mulch, or compost containing fish and bone meal.

Types and varieties of Mahonia

The Mahonia genus contains about 70 plant species in addition to numerous cultivars and hybrids. Popular and easily accessible types include:

Mahonia aquifolium, also known as the Oregon Grape or Berberis aquifolium, is a species that typically reaches a height of about 6 feet. Hardy zones according to the USDA range from 5 to 8.

Mahonia repens, also known as creeping mahonia, is a low-growing shrub that makes an excellent leafy ground cover, in contrast to many other mahonia species. Hardiness zones 5 to 8 of the USDA.

Mahonia fremontii (Frémont’s mahonia) can grow up to 8 feet tall. This shrub grows well in USDA zone 5.

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’: This tall, hardy, and adaptable hybrid, which can grow as tall as 15 feet, is frequently used to build a natural privacy fence. USDA zones 7 to 9 are hardy.


Although it’s not really necessary, pruning could help your mahonia grow more vigorously or with denser foliage.

If the shrub needs to be reduced or balanced again: Mahonia should be pruned after the blooming period. Never reduce a branch’s length by more than one-third. Branch out sick or dead ones.

Propagating Mahonia

Cuttings taken in the late summer or early fall, before flowering begins, are an easy way to multiply the majority of mahonia species. The likelihood of success can be increased by taking the following actions:

Choose a cutting from semi-ripe, current season growth that is approximately 6 inches long. Leaf out the bottom half of the cutting. Put rooting hormone on the cut end. In a moist potting soil with good drainage, plant out. Keep inside or in a warm area of a greenhouse. To keep the moisture in, cover with plastic. Maintain moisture until roots emerge.

How to Grow Mahonia From Seed

Try the methods listed below for spring planting to try and grow new mahonia from seeds:

Seeds should be separated from the fleshy berries. any gathered seeds must be cold- stratified for a minimum of one month. Place the seeds in a warmer area (between 65 and 70 degrees  Fahrenheit) and leave them for another month. Plant the seeds in the potting soil about 1/4 inch deep. A different option is to plant the seeds directly in the ground in the fall and hope for spring germination.

Common Plant Diseases

Because mahonias are a hardy species, problems with pests and dangerous diseases are uncommon. They may occasionally experience rust or powdery mildew (which causes brown spots on the foliage). Although neither is usually fatal, they can cause leaves to curl, wither, or drop.

You can lessen these issues by watering the shrubs at the plant’s base rather than over their leaves, avoiding damp areas, and removing infected sections. If the problem is difficult to manage, fungicides may be used. Rust is especially prone to harm Mahonia aquifolium.