The Q&A Archives: Leatherleaf Mohonia - Brown Leaves In The Fall

Question: I had a landcaper plant a Leatherleaf Mohonia this Fall in my landscape. The leaf color turned from the tradtional evergreen to a light brown over the past 3 months, but the leaves do not fall off with a gentle pull. I'm worried the specimen didn't take well since I added the specimen to my yard (eastern exposure)or the plant maybe dormant. My landscaper says the plant changes leaf color in the fall but I cann't find any information to support his claim. I excited to see what the plant has to offer in the Spring but fear the plant my have died.

Answer: This plant (Mahonia bealei) is an evergreen, but in my experience that is more true in a milder climate. It is a more commonly grown shrub further south where winters are less severe and consequently the foliage is more consistently attractive. In rough winters and while becoming established, the plant may turn a bronzy color or even a gray brown in winter as you described in response to cold and/or moisture stress and/or windy conditions and/or excess winter sun. At this point I would suggest being patient and see how it comes out of it next spring and summer. Some or most of the leaves may actually fall off, but with luck it will survive and grow better for you in the future. To give it a better chance, you might consider using a windbreak for it this winter. Next spring, trim it back to good wood if there is winter dieback in the actual wood of the branches. Good luck with your mahonia!

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