Gardening Matters: Virtually indestructible Mahonia

Evergreen: Mahonia is a great winter/spring plant for colour when not much else is flowering.
Evergreen: Mahonia is a great winter/spring plant for colour when not much else is flowering.

Mahonia are virtually indestructible plants and also make wonderful cut-flowers at this time of year. They are evergreen shrubs with attractive, glossy, leathery, dark-green, sharply-toothed leaves that look a bit like holly.

Plants are generally bushy and vigorous and vary from creeping to upright in shape and up to 2.5-3 metres in height.

In late winter and early spring, Mahonias bear either rounded clusters or elongated spikes of fragrant yellow flowers, either drooping or upright depending on the cultivar.

The flowers provide some welcome food for bees when little else is flowering and are followed by blue or black berry-like fruits.

Mahonias are generally considered fairly easy to grow. They Most species are happiest in part shade with shelter from hot afternoon sun. They are quite tolerant of dry shade and will appreciate a summer watering if grown in a sunnier location.

Another thing to love about Mahonias is that the rabbits don’t love them!

Pruning is best done before the buds start to swell. This allows more time for the tree to recover before the sap starts to flow and the buds break. Also, at this time of year the overall branch structure is easy to see, and most insects and disease-causing organisms are not active.

Remember not to prune spring-flowering shrubs and trees at this time, as you will prune off the flower buds.

Grape vines can be pruned after the leaves have fallen. Grape vines “bleed” sap copiously if they are pruned when they are growing, which can weaken the plant, so pruning needs to be done before the sap starts to rise. Cut all the previous year’s fruited shoots back to two or three buds from the main stem.

It is worth the effort to cut back the old leaves of hellebores at this time of year. This will promote fresh growth later in winter and allow the flowers to shine.

Plant onions and garlic. Plant around the shortest day of the year (June 21), harvest on the longest (December 22).

Cut back on watering your indoor plants in winter. Most indoor plants come from warm climates, so it can help to use water that is the same temperature as the room your plants are in. Remember that the temperature may be colder very close to a window.

The Armidale Garden Club’s next meeting is on Thursday 27 July at 7pm in the Uniting Church Hall. Just bring yourself, your questions and your smile – everyone is welcome!