A profile of ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia

Story and Photos by Peggy Hill

Many people make the mistake of designing their gardens around flowers. They concentrate on creating pleasing blends of colors and flower shapes. While blooms are important, your focus should be on exciting foliage combinations; the flowers that come and go are merely the icing on the cake. One of my favorite foliage plants for shady or partly shady gardens is Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’.

Don’t let the name fool you: ‘Soft Caress’ is not like other mahonias. It’s not thorny and it doesn’t reseed all over the garden. It looks more like a short evergreen clumping bamboo. Navy blue berries follow the fall and winter flowers. Plant at least three because more than one is required for good berry production, and ‘Soft Caress’ looks best planted en masse. 

Winter hardiness can be an issue. In Zone 7, it should be planted in the spring so it will have enough time to establish before winter arrives; it also appreciates some protection during particularly cold periods. After an unusually cold winter, it may appear to be dead, but give it a chance. It will often regrow from the roots and arise to once again grace the garden with its fine-textured foliage and bright yellow flowers.

Quick Facts and Keys to Success
Common Name: ‘Soft Caress’ Oregon grape
Botanical Name: Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’
Zones: 7-9
Color: Forest green foliage, yellow blooms
Blooming Period: Late fall to winter
Type: Evergreen shrub
Mature Size: 3-4 feet tall and wide
Exposure: Part sun to shade
When to Plant: Spring
How to Plant: Space 2 feet apart, 1-2 inches above soil level.
Soil: Average
Watering: Dry to medium
How to Prune: If desired, cut the tallest stems at ground level in winter.
When to Fertilize: Spring
In Your Landscape: Use in beds, borders, foundation plantings, or containers.

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