It’s been a mild winter…

…..on the Seacoast of New Hampshire. Lots of rain with temperatures that have fluctuated in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s during the day, and the 20’s and 30’s during the overnight for the most part. But this mild pattern is about to change. Last night we had mild overnight temperature of 33°. Tonight’s temperatures will drop into the mid-teens. Nighttime temperatures will stay there or much lower for the rest of the month. Sigh. Winter has arrived.

So this morning, I had a job to do. Out came the burlap to protect two of my woody plants, the mahonias, that I consider borderline plants in my less sheltered garden sites. Officially we are zone 6 in Exeter, but I always plant for hardiness zone 5b as I learned while working at Rolling Green Nursery here in NH.

mahonia NH 2019

It’s a lovely winter blooming plant and they are beginning to develop terminal blooms on several stems. With temperatures dropping to single digits tomorrow night, I needed to protect those new blooms that are oh-so tiny.

mahonia bloom January 2019

Those blooms will open to beautiful, lemon-yellow clusters in late February or March and look like this photo (below) taken in my January gardens in Virginia. As an early blooming plant, these fragrant blooms are well-known for helping to feed those first bees that are searching for nectar in the spring.

honeybee on mahonia

After pollination, the fruits develop the most divine grape-like clusters of powder blue berries. Unfortunately, they don’t stay on the plants long. My catbirds arrive from warmer climes and devour all before any other migrating bird has a chance!

mahonia berries in Virginia

Mahonia is closely related to the barberry, but the leaves are spiny and look more like a holly shrub. These slow-growing plants are planted in a shady mixed-shrub border that I am currently planning a big redesign. Not to worry… my mahonia shrubs stay just where they are as the jewels in the crown of this garden in New Hampshire.

25 thoughts on “It’s been a mild winter…

  1. Trying to get our beloved dwarf gardenia to survive in spite of our borderline zone. It is planted with eastern exposure hoping for warm morning sun. We’re covering it at night. It has died and come back to life for 5 years cutting back the dead wood. Any encouragement? Xoxo

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    • I just figured out that your borderline zone is not the same as mine and was shocked that you were trying to grow a dwarf gardenia in zone 5b-6 but you’re in 7b, yes? I would think it should do well especially in the sun as you have yours. I’m no expert but I wouldn’t wrap it tight but cover it with something that provides an air barrier between the plant and the cover…and will protect it from the weight of snow. With Global Warming creeping up the coast, you may soon be zone 8 and your shrub will be healthy and happy. 💕

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  2. We are crazy about our mahonias, and love their beauty as well as their being magnets to our annual troupe of playful, curious, catbird friends. Be careful about backing into a mahonia as you are gardening! I am thinking the mahonia may be the first blooming bush here in the Old Dominion.

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    • They are tough little plants and not beautiful but they make beautiful flowers and fruit. It’s your gardens that make me envious… but I’m trying to catch up.

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  3. I was just looking at Mahonia aquifolium before coming in out of the rain. I am pruning the roses nearby, and would like to prune the Mahonia aquifolium as well. It has gotten too big, and the big old canes divert resources that would otherwise go to the production of fresher new canes. That is a problem here; is that no one wants to cut back the old canes to promote new canes. It is not bothered by the cold here in our mild climate. It does just as well in Oregon, where it is the state flower.

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      • I try to cut after blooming but not opposed to taking one in the fall meaning no bloom that year. Mine are fairly young. I’ve been looking at Mahonia repens. Any experience with that dwarf creeping shrub?

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      • No, I have not worked with it directly. There was a bit of it in only a few of the landscapes I needed to inspect back in 2006 or so, but they were not what I was there to look at. The common Mahonia aquifolium is still the most common here, and as much as I like it when it does well, I really dislike how ‘gardeners’ will not cut out the tired old canes. Mahonia lomariifolia is sometimes seen in the small gardens of the old Eichler homes. and if pruned well, can be very striking.

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  4. Annie – we have had that roller coaster and mild weather too, but snow is on the way today.

    I too love Mahonia, Dad gave me a transplant from his that he has around his front porch. I killed it right away. Your post reminds me that I want to try again. Kim

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    • Two out of three vehicles on the road in New Hampshire right now are trucks with plows on the front. The drivers don’t look too happy. Where’s the snow? Snow removal is what puts food on the table for many of these folks. I think I’l request you send your snow north after you’ve had enough. We need our fair share in New England.
      Mahonia should LOVE your habitat. You even have all those chickens for good fertilizer.

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