January Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Leatherleaf Mahonia

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Mahonia Berries develop after the blooms
Bright yellow bloom spikes atop Mahonia provide winter nectar for pollinators which are buzzing around this holly-like evergreen from China. Every year, I look forward to seeing these bright flowers open in the middle of a cold winter. Bloom time for the mahonia is dependent on the temperatures we are having any given winter. I have seen them open as early as December, but usually the blooms open soon after Christmas. We have had a very mild winter, so on warm days we are seeing bees buzzing around anything with flowers, including our many mahonia bushes.

You won't find many plants easier to grow than the mahonia. This plant grows happily in sun or shade and in any type of soil. However, foliage stays greener making a much more attractive plant when grown in shade. Supplemental water is unnecessary. 

I hope I do not receive numerous comments and emails chastising me for planting and recommending mahonia in the home garden, for this is one plant that gardeners either love or hate. There is no middle ground with mahonia. Many call this plant invasive, but I disagree. Mahonia is not capable of crowding and choking out native plants. Mahonia shrubs grow alongside our native trees, shrubs, and groundcovers without killing them or harming them in any way. And since pollinators are frequently darting around on warm days searching for nectar in our mild climate, I will consider any plant that blooms in January.

A common name for Mahonia is Grape Holly, so named because the bright yellow blooms develop into dark purple/black drupes that resemble grapes. Birds will eat them, but usually only after they dry a bit and look like raisins.  These attractive fruits give Mahonia value on into spring. 

Mahonia is a shrub that is beautiful any time the year. Evergreen "holly-like" prickly leaves have an architectural habit that is unusual and can be a focal point in the garden. Add to that bright yellow blooms in January that attract pollinators and blue black fruits in Spring, and you have a great plant for the Southern garden.

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