Foliage Follow-Up: Green up winter with Chinese mahonia

It looks handsome all year, but winter is when I really admire Chinese mahonia’s upright form and narrow, pointed, evergreen leaves. It helps to green up the winter garden, and at about 4 feet tall it makes a good foundation plant that won’t try to eat your house. It thrives in shade (a little morning sun is OK), and deer won’t touch it — or at least my deer don’t touch it.

I inherited two with the house. A year ago I planted a row of 7 or 8 in the narrow space between my house and my neighbor’s in order to define the garden and shield her trash cans from view. I can’t wait until they fill in to make a low mahonia hedge.

Like many mahonias, they are a bit prickly, so you don’t want to plant them too close to a path.

I’m still tinkering with my deep-shade, north-facing, deer-infested foundation bed. For now these are working for me, and they remain nearly as fresh and green in winter as they do in summer: ‘Sparkler’ sedge, ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia (still a baby), holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum — not a favorite of mine, but it’s tough, the right size, and deer ignore it), and Chinese mahonia (Mahonia fortunei).

Please join me in posting about your lovely leaves of January for Foliage Follow-Up, a way to remind ourselves of the importance of foliage in the garden on the day after Bloom Day. Leave your link to your Foliage Follow-Up post in a comment. I really appreciate it if you’ll also include a link to this post in your own post (sharing link love!). If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

17 Responses

  1. Kris P says:

    That Mahonia may be a good selection for the shaded boundary area on one side of the house – I wonder if it’ll deter tiny neighboring dogs as it does deer ;).

    Here’s my contribution to foliage follow-up this month:

  2. Helen says:

    I like the look of that mahonia, seems softer then the ones common here. Here is my foliage post

  3. ricki says:

    Mahonia hedge: what a clever idea…and that is an especially pretty one. I chose to focus on an evergreen border this time:

  4. Peter/Outlaw says:

    Your Mahonia is very dark and handsome! Welcome back from Africa! My foliage post is random as usual and can be found here –

  5. That is a nice variety of Mahonia. It’s foliage resembles that of Nandina in a way. I am taking a closer look at the garden at this time of year and foliage is an important element. My post is here:

  6. Thanks Pam, for starting the Foliage Follow up. I did a post on Mahonia yesterday, for Bloom Day! Here’s my foliage post:

  7. Thanks for hosting, Pam. Never met a Mahonia I didn’t like. My Foliage Follow-up this month is Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans.’

  8. Denise says:

    I’m trying to think where I could shoehorn in a mahonia. So many beautiful photos of them for BD and now your FFU.

  9. Every photo is lovely Pam, but the first one especially so. I wonder how many people would be surprised by the fact those are mahonia? Oh and the Cyrtomium falcatum looks great there too!

    As you know I’m celebrating a fav foliage of both of ours:

  10. Jeanette says:

    Thanks for hosting Pam. As you can see I have been using many of your suggestions in my garden beds with success. I am surprised to see many plants did not die back with the freeze. The daylilies, phlox and several of the bulb leaves are still very green. Thanks for sharing your expeditions, too!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Thanks so much for joining in with your winter-pretty selections, Jeanette. Without a Google account, and with no Name/URL option for commenting on your blog, I’m unable to leave a comment there, but I truly want to thank you for the kind mention of my book! —Pam

  11. David says:

    Never see this species here in the SF Bay Area, but fell in lust with it when I first saw it in Dallas, Texas, decades ago. I always suspected it must really prefer summer heat, else how to explain its lack of popularity here in coastal California?

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Good question, David. Maybe it’s just that no one’s thought to try it there yet. Sounds like a road trip is in order, with room in the back seat for a few Chinese mahonias! —Pam

  12. Renee says:

    Your Mahonia is so green and pretty… and I might need a foundation hedge at some point! I guess this one goes on my list.

    My foliage post (late!) focuses on just one plant: Mr. Ripple

  13. Abbey says:

    Good post, Pam. It’s so helpful to hear and see how plants perform in people’s yards. Do you have any insight into Acuba vs Mahonia? I know their light requirements, size and general shape are similar, but I’ve been frustrated with how quickly and clearly the Acuba shows its distress at not getting as much water as it would like and how easily it sunburns when a beam of north, northwest sun sneaks past the house wall and the tree canopy and blackens a few leaves. The Acuba are slow to recover from these incidents so more often than not mine look thin and deflated.
    I’m plotting to take out the Acuba and perhaps replace then with Mahonia.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I think acuba is better suited to the Southeast than to central Texas, Abbey. It likes acidic soil and more rainfall than we tend to get. I see it growing in Austin on occasion, but it never looks very happy. When I lived in Raleigh, I remember it doing very well there.

      Chinese mahonia will do fine with a little morning sun, but I would keep it out of late morning/midday sun, and no afternoon sun at all. Once established, it’ll need some watering in summer, but overall I find it fairly tolerant of dry soil in the shade. —Pam

  14. Christina says:

    that Mahonia has really lovely foliage and a great choice for a hedge. You might like the plant I’m featuring today too, another plant that likes shade.