A Mahonia For Late Winter

Leatherleaf mahonia bloom

Leatherleaf selection lomariifolia in bloom

Overall view of a very old leatherleaf mahonia in bloom which was correctly pruned for shape and size.

Depending on the year in Birmingham, evergreen leatherleaf mahonia will start blooming as early as mid-January. This year they are in full bloom now. Its yellow flowers contrasted with its course, very sticky foliage makes it a standout in late winter. A shade to light shade plant only, it hates full sun, and while it will live it is never a pretty plant. It enjoys a well drained location, but can tolerate a slightly moist location. As for soil, it does okay in poor soil, but show its stuff in a good fertile soil. Once the flowers finish blooming it will produce grape colored bunches of fruit. Here is its only problem. Like its cousin nandina, seeds easily germinate, and if the seedlings are not removed they can become a pest. The old specimen in the image is at the Japanese Garden at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, which for the last few years I have been stair-step pruning for shaping and height by removing the very old canes at different lengths, thus creating a mass plant that shows off its whorl of leaf clusters and flowers. Yes, this is an easy plant to grow, and a bright spot in the late winter landscape.

John Floyd

John Floyd has been gardening--and learning about Birmingham area gardening--for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience, John has degrees in horticulture from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was Editor-in-Chief of Southern Living.

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