How to Prune Mahonia Aquifolium

Written by d.c. winston
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How to Prune Mahonia Aquifolium
Pruning shears or secateurs are ideal for pruning Mahonia aquifolium shrubs. (Image Source White/Valueline/Getty Images)

Mahonia aquifolium is a slow-growing species of Berberis shrub also commonly known as Oregon Grapeholly. The shrub is evergreen with multi-season interest provided by yellow blooms in the later spring, edible blue-black berries in the later summer and a change of leaf colour from green to a bronzed purple in the fall. The shrub typically reaches 3 to 6 feet in height and spread at maturity and has a sprawling, very slightly upright growth habit. The branches resemble canes that sprout directly through the soil from underground rhizomes and most pruning is done at the crown of the plant in order to preserve its natural form unless it is sheared into a formal shape.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Secateurs
  • Long-blade pruning shears

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  1. 1

    Prune your Mahonia shrubs in the later winter or early spring after the fruit has all been taken off the shrub by hungry birds and other animals.

  2. 2

    Remove any dead, broken, diseased or otherwise compromised canes by severing them at the crown of the plant at the soil line with sharp, clean secateurs.

  3. 3

    Reduce the height or spread of the shrub by removing the oldest and longest canes that jut out beyond the desired size, line or shape of the shrub. Again remove these at the crown of the plant and pull the cuttings clear of the canopy. Remove up to one-third of the total shrub volume in this manner each year to control the shape and size as needed.

  4. 4

    Shear the shrub or shrubs into a formal hedge or topiary shape with long blade scissor shears. Hold the cutting blades parallel with the shrub surface to create flat planes of foliage or at a slight angle for curving planes of foliage. Remove up to but no more than one-third of the shrub foliage in this manner to create your desired shape or form.

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