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


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.

We have several at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens and now, as if wanting to be a participant in the holidays, they are sending up their glorious spikes of golden yellow flowers bringing in an abundance of pollenating bees.

Soft Caress originated in Alpharetta, Ga., courtesy of the great breeding and plant development program at ItSaul Plants. You’re starting to find it easily at garden as part of the Southern Living Plant Collection. But it is not just a hit in the United States. It just garnered the 2013 Plant of the year at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show.

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. We have clusters in close proximity to bamboo and others close to the Rising Sun redbuds.

Ours are thriving 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 8 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.

Ours are blooming now but I assure you whenever yours start, the bright yellow blossoms and busy bees will certainly give a breath of spring. The blossoms will give way to clusters of steel blue that also command attention from not only from us but the birds that devour them. I would say everyone needs one but I heartily urge you to plant at least three.

You need to take a survey of your home and see where they might add enjoyment to the landscape with their beauty.

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