Creeping Mahonia

mahonia-aquifolium-compacta_oregon-grape_dbg-co_lah_4128When you have a smaller yard, you want every plant to earn its keep. With fragrant yellow flowers, blue berries, and green leaves that turn purple in winter, Creeping Mahonia (aka Oregon Grape, Mahonia repens) definitely deserves a spot!

These are low-growing plants, about 12” to 18” tall, with underground stems (stolons) that spread up to three feet in width.  Spring brings an abundance of small, deep yellow flowers, attractively set off by the dark green leaves. By late summer, these mature into clusters of small, dusty-blue berries that are sour but edible. (A similar species, M. haematocarpa, has red berries). The holly-like foliage persists into winter, turning a lovely plum with the advent of cold weather.

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Winter Color

Do weeks of staring at snowy white landscapes have your eyes screaming for color? Winter gardens don’t have to be drab, lifeless affairs. Flowers may not be in bloom, but many plants have leaves, stems, or berries in shades of bright red, golden orange, or silver-blue and plum. Put them together and your winter garden springs to life.

Mahonia repens (also known as Oregon Grape Holly)  is an attractive groundcover year-round, but it really shines in winter. While other plants shed their leaves, Mahonia’s foliage turns a stunning bright red.

Yellow flowers in spring and showy blue berries in early fall add to this native’s year-round interest. Mahonia repens is drought tolerant, and handles full sun to part shade.

Juniper horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ is another groundcover that remains attractive all year. While many junipers grow much too large for our small yards, Blue Chip stays under a foot high. Its feathery foliage is a beautiful steel-blue all year, with the addition of silver-plum tips in winter. Plant it in full sun, where it will quickly spread up to ten feet in diameter. Junipers are very xeric once established.

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