Planning Your Shade Garden With Mahonia

Stately in structure and rich in texture, mahonias add a certain energy to shady nooks and dark corners. With layer upon layer of striking evergreen foliage, mahonias provide the perfect starting point for planning your next shady retreat. Try these design ideas for massive impact.

In Focus

With winter blooms, summer berries, and handsome foliage year-round, 'Marvel’ Mahonia makes a bold statement in the garden. Plant ‘Marvel’ where you can enjoy the plant’s amazing architecture. The strong, upright habit, whorled leaf arrangement, and enormous, glossy green foliage provide structure throughout the year. Try flanking a doorway with a pair of this unusual focal point or plant it as a focal point in shade and woodland gardens.

Getting Grounded

Anchor upright mahonias like ‘Marvel’ and leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia japonica) to their surroundings by planting among fine- and medium-textured neighbors. Mountain Snow™ Pieris, Encore® Azaleas, and Yewtopia® Plum Yew are excellent companions in a mixed shrub border.

Accent the lemon-yellow blooms with a mass of ‘Lemon-Lime’ Nandina. The chartreuse color and fine texture provide soft contrast and complement ‘Marvel’. Blanket the ground with even more color – try a combination of broad-leaved hellebores or 'Cracked Ice’ Heucherella and the fine blades of Evercolor® ‘Eversheen’ Carex for rich texture. Or, underplant ‘Marvel’ with a spray of Heirloom Snowflake bulbs for a vibrant winter display.

Mass Appeal

The fine, bamboo-like foliage of ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia creates a luxurious carpet when planted in mass. Mass plantings work well in woodland settings because they lend a natural appearance and balance of scale to lofty trees overhead. Use ‘Soft Caress’ as a tall groundcover to surround shady hideaways in lush texture. Tuck clumps of ‘Buttered Rum’ Heucherella among the mahonia to provide a contrast in color and texture.

‘Soft Caress’ also provides low-maintenance support for broadleaf accents like Dear Dolores™ Hydrangea and ‘Angyo Star’ Fatshedera. Another low-growing mahonia, creeping mahonia (Mahonia repens) is also used as a groundcover, though its foliage is coarse and rounded.

For the Birds

Gardeners are not the only ones who enjoy the fragrant blooms and waxy, blue-black berries of Mahonia. Warm afternoons bring bees, butterflies, and other pollinators by to sip nectar from the golden blooms, even on a winter’s day. Berry-eating birds like thrashers, mockingbirds, and robins just might strip your plant of berries overnight. Consider planting ‘Marvel’ and Oregon grape hollies (Mahonia aquifolium) in a location where you can enjoy visiting birds and pollinators. You will also enjoy the many species of birds that use the dense foliage for shelter.   ​

Mahonias look at home in a variety of settings. A native woodland plant, the large foliage of Mahonias can also be used to lend a tropical appearance to the garden. The striking form is well suited to both Asian-themed landscapes and minimalist modern plantings. And the layered foliage is charming in Southern gardens. Mahonias add vigor and texture wherever they are planted. Liven up your shade garden, plant ‘Marvel’ and ‘Soft Caress’ in your next design.

Pin it!

find your USDA zone
find a garden center
buy plants online
watch plant videos
plant finder