Mahonia adds evergreen texture for Foliage Follow Up

Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’ is new to the nursery trade and beginning to pop up in local garden centers. I recently bought this big 7-gallon ‘Soft Caress’ on discount at Hill Country Water Gardens, where they gave me a deal so I could trial it in my garden. If you’re interested, they have more 7-gallons, and I’ve also seen it offered at Red Barn (5 or 7 gallons) and Barton Springs Nursery (one small one).

I first saw ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia last spring in the Rister-Armstrong garden on the Dallas Open Days garden tour. It was love at first sight! From the cultivar name you might guess that it’s a non-prickly mahonia, and you’d be right. It has a mounding habit and needs full shade in our hot climate. Like all mahonias, it’s considered deer resistant.

Oregon grape holly (Mahonia aquifolium), native to the Pacific Northwest, may be the best-known mahonia, and it grows in shade in Austin too. But we also have a native mahonia that takes sun or shade and grows well in garden settings too: agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata), seen here growing wild in a savannah at Lost Maples State Natural Area.

And at the Wildflower Center

I grew it in my former garden and keep meaning to add it to my current garden. Its blue-green leaves are lovely year-round, and in spring it holds small clusters of yellow flowers along its woody stems.

I inherited two Chinese mahonias (Mahonia fortunei) with our current house and have grown to admire their handsome leaves, drought tolerance, and deer resistance. I’d never seen them for sale in Austin until recently, at Red Barn. I nearly snapped up several more before realizing I didn’t know where I’d put them.

So there’s my mahonia tribute. Join me in posting about your lovely leaves of March for Foliage Follow-Up, a way to remind ourselves of the importance of foliage in the garden. Just leave a comment here with a link to your foliage post, and please include a link to Digging in your post. If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it.

By the way, my blog Digging is a finalist for Best Gardening Blog in the Readers’ Choice Awards at I’d love to have your vote. You can vote once a day (it’s on a 24-hour cycle) until March 21. So vote early and often! Thanks for your support! (And thank you to Pamela Price for the vote graphic.) Click to VOTE.

All material © 2006-2012 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

24 Responses

  1. Greggo says:

    Mahonia is a very versatile species. When I lived in Colorado, Mahonia repens was very common. Nice post. My foliage post is

  2. Les says:

    No foliage follow up, but I am also a member of the Mahonia fan club, and was recently surprised to learn there were several xeric species. Here Mahonia grows in the shady parts of the garden, under tall trees surrounded by hydrangeas and camellias. Soft Caress is a wonder.

  3. Knock- out foliage! Our heat wave will be bring out foliage up here any day. In the meantime, we have some things that nicely made it through the winter — such as it was.

  4. Susan (gardensage) says:

    I have a small ‘Soft Caress’ that I got late last summer at North Haven Gardens in Dallas. It made it through heat & drought and is starting to put on lots of new growth. Nice to see pics of a larger one.

  5. Tina says:

    I like the Mahonias as well and that ‘Soft Caress’ is lovely–always good to have another addition to a shady garden. I really want to add an Agarita to my gardens, I just don’t have a place for one. Here’s my post for Foliage Follow-Up:

    Tina, I’m having trouble leaving a comment on your post, so I’ll put it here. I keep meaning to plant bronze fennel—it does have lovely, feathery foliage. The iris and skullcap combo is nice. Hopefully Shoshana’s iris will be blooming in a few weeks along with the skullcap. Thanks for posting! —Pam

  6. My husband doesn’t like prickery plants, so Mahonias are not at the top of his list of plants for the garden. I did plant three Quince without telling him about the thorns, sh!!! I like that ‘Tender Touch’ Mahonia, will have to see if they have it anywhere in my area.
    Might be able to get a foliage post done….

  7. I mean ‘Soft Caress’….boy, short term memory issues!!

  8. spurge says:

    I don’t have a foliage follow up today, but just wanted to say thanks for featuring those gorgeous mahonias! Most are not hardy in my zone but I love seeing them. I had not heard of some of yours – they really have outstanding foliage and habit.

  9. Oh, I like that Mahonia. I like the softer look to the leaves.

    Here’s my Foliage Follow-Up for this month:

    Thanks, again, for hosting. Have a great weekend.

  10. Megan says:

    Loving that Mahonia! I’m not sure why we’ve never done a Foliage Follow Up post before, but we finally got our act together this month:
    Thanks for hosting!

  11. Yay for Mahonia! Your ‘Soft Caress’ is stunning! Thank you for the reminder I need to move mine to a better spot. 7 gallon huh? I’ve only seen them around here in little 1 gallon pots.

    I’m sharing a few photos of my latest plant acquisitions for this Foliage Follow-up: thanks for hosting!

  12. Lucy Abbott says:

    Hi Pam, I love your post about Mahonias. It seems in Houston I mostly see Mahonia Aquifolium, but maybe I need to look closer and I’ll notice other varieties. I do like their berries. Thanks for hosting! Have a great weekend! Here is my link for Foliage Follow-Up:

    Lucy, I wasn’t able to leave a comment on your post, so I’ll put it here: Castor bean has to have one of the most beautiful leaves anywhere. So glad you showed off a pond plant too—they often have interesting foliage. Here in Austin we’re buried in live oak leaves but no pine pollen. I bet you have both! —Pam

  13. Oops! Went to last year’s post, and see that photo is from there. It is a pretty Mahonia.

  14. I love Mahonia… cool plants that grow relatively easy. Great foliage post…. It’s always interesting to see foliage color this time of year, with the rain and all.

  15. Nell Jean says:

    Mahonia has been on my list of things to buy for years. It never rose to the top when I was at a nursery that featured it. I know it grows here, I’ve seen it in local gardens.

    My foliage today is two fav purples.

    Thanks for hosting.

  16. Hi Pam – I love the Mahonia eurybracteata – I will look out for it here.
    My March Foliage Follow Up post is now up at – Things are starting to look “Autumny” here. Thanks for hosting :)

  17. I am more and more in love with Mahonias. Mahonia aquifolium is the Oregon State flower, and we’ve grown it for decades. Now I’m intrigued by your ‘Soft Caress”: what stunning foliage! I just acquired Mahonia fortunei ‘Dan Hinkley’ and have Mahonia gracilipes, but more are clearly in my future. Strangely, not one of them is in my Foliage Follow-Up post today (though I showed the blossoms for Bloom Day yesterday.) Thank you for hosting!

  18. 19.Though I am biased a bit towards your native, Agarita (aka Agritos in NM), the others seem more graceful and better suited up-close and under the shade. Esp. that ‘Soft Caress’ cultivar…nice! The Oregon Grape you mention hangs-in here in shade w/ good irrigation, but maybe it isn’t fooled by our desert soil?

    I’m throwing in here –

    (now, if only I had time to read all the above posts…)

  19. ricki says:

    Mahonia is our state shrub, so you struck a chord here. ‘Soft Caress’ is a new one to me, and quite lovely. Here’s my entry:

  20. Alison says:

    That Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ is so interesting, so different form our prickly native here in the PNW. I like the look of your Texas native. I managed to get a foliage post together! It’s here:

  21. Hi Pam,
    I’m not familiar with those plants. I like them. It hard to imagine some of them are related to each other.

    Here’s a link to my post:

  22. Denise says:

    I went in an entirely different direction for FF but a familiar one. I tried mahonia quite a few years ago, and it was a struggle. I think my soil might be too alkaline, but then I’d guess yours must be fairly alkaline too. Maybe not enough shade, something I have more of these days.

    Yes, my soil is alkaline too. Of course our native mahonia, agarita, prefers it, but the Chinese mahonia doesn’t mind either. The verdict is still out on ‘Soft Caress.’ —Pam

  23. I don’t have mahonia yet, but it looks like a good textural plant for some of my new shady spots.

    I’m highlighting silvery foliage for March.

  24. Tom E says:

    Leatherleaf mahonia (my wife’s favorite) went from a least favorite to one of my two favorite plant additions in 2011 (such is the mystery of gardening). With this wet and warm centex winter we’re having we’ve gone shade gardening crazy with big mass plantings of wood fern, farfugium (leopard plant) and a rice paper plant, all inspired from looking out the back window of an antiques store on the square in Goliad Tx and being reminded of the beauty of the mass planting (which is tricky for those of us who would like one of everything). Funny thing was there was a run on farfugium at BSN, so not only did we have to take the last of the litter, but we are ordering 2 more to fill in the spots. I’m influenced by plant names (had to have Best of Friends daylily too), but I don’t know if we have a space left for Soft Caress mahonia??

    I am influenced by plant names too, Tom, hence the presence in my garden of ‘Molly Ivins’ salvia, ‘Sharkskin’ agave, and ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, among others. I bet you’ll end up with a ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia yet! —Pam