Family: Berberidaceae (barberry family)
Common Names: Leatherleaf Holly & Mahonia
Mahonia, is a popular shrub in the South. It's dense clusters of bright yellow, fragrant flowers attract an abundance of bees and reliably flower by mid January and sometimes as early as late December in the Memphis area. These showy flowers held above evergreen foliage make this a valuable garden accent in late winter or early spring when few other plants are blooming.
Mahonias have coarse, pinnately compound, leathery, bluish-green leaves about 18 inches long. The 9 or so leaflets are very spiny like holly and each are about 2 - 4 inches long by about half as wide. Even if they never bloomed the plants would be admired for their foliage alone. These plants are stunning in a mixed border with Azaleas and Camellias where they provide winter color when little else is flowering in the garden.
The fruit is a berry and produced in clusters like grapes. They start out green and mature to a glacous, deep bluish-green. Birds love them, so admire them before they're all eaten up!
Size: 4-6 ft tall and 3-4 ft wide.
Cultivation: Mahonias can tolerate many different soil types and pH. They appreciate mulch and an application of shrub fertilizer in the spring.
Pruning: These plants, like their cousins, Nandina domestica (Heavenly Bamboo) will get gangly if not properly pruned. This plant can be pruned to a single-stemmed specimen or for a denser form, a few of the tallest stems may be removed each spring at ground level to encourage new basal growth.
Light: Leatherleaf mahonia's leaves will burn it it gets hot, midday sun, especially in zones 8 and 9, so filtered shade is best in those conditions. Since it may not flower without receiving a couple hours of sun each day, the best location would be one that receives morning sun. It will do well with more sun in more northern ranges of its hardiness zone.
Moisture: Mahonias need adequate water to look their best but also need well-drained soil. They should be watered if the soil becomes dry.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 - 9.
Propagation: Mahonias can be grown from seed if they are planted fresh. It can also be propagated from cuttings.