Soft Caress mahonia offers stunning beauty in the landscape

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceDecember 12, 2013 

The Soft Caress mahonia offers great texture, blooms and fruit.


Soft Caress mahonia is rocking in the United States — and England too. The mention of mahonia brings to mind Oregon grape holly, Mahonia aquifolium, or its prickly sometimes invasive relative, the leather leaf mahonia, Mahonia bealei.

The name Soft Caress tells you this is not your typical mahonia. Indeed it is different, with thread-like foliage, soft to the touch and bearing no spines. Botanically speaking, it is Mahonia eurybracteata subsp. ganpinensis Soft Caress, and it gives a magical, almost fernlike texture to the garden likening itself to anything other than mahonia. When you see those wonderful flowers and delightful fruits loved by birds, you instantly recognize it.

Soft Caress is cold hardy from zones 7-9, tough to around zero degrees, and will reach about 4 feet in height and almost as wide. Clusters can be especially attractive in close proximity to bamboo and Rising Sun redbuds.

They can thrive in partial shade, some getting brief direct sun, but high-filtered, shifting light would be just perfect. They perform best in fertile well-drained soil. So take the time to prepare a shrub bed by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and two pounds of a 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area. Till the soil eight to 10 inches deep.

Dig the planting hole two to three times as wide as the rootball but no deeper. You goal is to have the top of the rootball even with the soil surface. Place the plant in the hole and backfill with soil to two-thirds the depth. Tamp the soil and water to settle, add the remaining backfill, repeat the process and apply mulch.

Soft Caress is not considered a high maintenance plant. As needed prune out any old ugly or damaged canes to encourage new young shoots and bushiness. In the woodland garden consider combining with hostas, ferns, and the repeat blooming Encore azaleas.

The bright yellow blossoms give way to clusters of steel blue that also command attention from the birds that devour them.

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