Mahonias- Which Mahonia Variety is Best?


Mahonias are Evergreen Flowering Shrubs

Mahonias are shade-loving, evergreen flowering shrubs that are members of the Berberidaceae family. They are often used in foundation plantings, shrub borders, or as screening plants. Find facts and information on mahonias to find which variety works best for your landscape.

Mahonia Facts

Mahonias are originally from China and are hardy in Zones 6, 7 & 8. They reach a height of 6-8’ and have a rather slow growing rate. Mahonias, leatherleaf mahonia, bloom in early spring and have yellow flowers clustered on erect spikes 4-8” long. It has grapelike clusters of blue-black oval berries with foliage that is a compound leaf to 18” long with 9-15 spiny leaflets. Mahonias require well-drained, humusy soil with a pH 6.0-7.0. They grow in partial shade, and require even moisture.

"Mahonia Bealei"

Blue-black berries of Leatherleaf mahonia

The mahonias, are beautiful shade-loving evergreen shrubs of the barberry family. They add plant texture and fall color to the garden. Mahonias have spiny hollylike leaves and bear small golden yellow flowers that have a sweet, rather pervasive, scent.

Popular Mahonia Varieties

The two most popular species are often used with hollies. They’re good for screening and attractive in shrub borders.

  • Mahonia bealei, leatherleaf mahonia, popular in the Southeast in Zones 6-8, grows to a 6-8’ shrub with large, handsome compound blue-green leaves up to 18 inches long that are composed of 4 inch toothed leaflets. The leaves sit almost horizontally, and retain their color in winter. In late February and early March, leatherleaf mahonia bears drooping clusters of perfumed yellow flowers followed by blue-black grapelike fruits that birds love. Its legginess can be disguised earily by an under planting of Sarcococa ruscifolia and hellebore.
  • Chinese Mahonia, Mahonia fortunei, is similar but has softer foliage and is hardy only in Zones 7,8 & 9. On the west coast it blooms in the fall.
  • Oregon grape holly, Mahonia aquifolium, is a 3-6’ plant with shiny refined leaves that turn bronze-plum in winter. It is hardier than leatherleaf mahonia, and thrives in Zones 4 or 5-8. It has clusters of small fragrant yellow flowers that appear in late winter or early spring and is followed by blue-black fruits.
  • ‘Apollo’ is an outstanding cultivar with yellow-orange flowers.
  • ‘Compacta’ is a dwarf 2-3’ that is hardy in Zones 6, 7 & 8.

Growing Mahonias

A young container-grown or balled-and-burlapped mahonia transplants easily in early spring in well drained, humusy, moist, slightly acid soil. The mahonias prefer light shade, but Oregon grape holly can stand some direct sun. If the shrub becomes too leggy, cut older straggely canes back to ground level when blooming is over. Remove any suckers as they arise to keep Oregon grape holly from spreading.


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