Any time you’re selecting new plants for your landscape, there is one question you should always ask yourself: Should I be planting this? Nandina domestica or heavenly bamboo is the perfect example of a plant that may require some extra thought. Nandina is a common landscape shrub, but in some areas, particularly in the South, it is considered invasive and spreads by seed. So, it is important to know more about this plant before choosing to plant it.
THIS UPRIGHT EVERGREEN to semi-evergreen shrub can grow in full sun to full shade and will flower and fruit even in shade. It is known as much for its brightly colored foliage as it is for its beautiful red berry clusters that persist throughout the winter. It is adaptable to most soil conditions but prefers a moist fertile soil to look its best.
IT GROWS 6 TO 8 FEET TALL and 2 to 4 feet wide. In its preferred growing environment, it can sucker or colonize, making a beautiful dense planting. Light pruning keeps the plants from getting leggy. The foliage is winter hardy to about 10 degrees and the stems to about 5 degrees. Throughout Kentucky, we have had extensive upper damage to the plants, which uniformly break from the stem or ground when damaged. But they are resilient, and new foliage will emerge.
THE FRUIT IS HARD and persists on the plant throughout the winter. While most birds will not eat it, cedar waxwings, northern mockingbird and American robin have been known to feed on it when other food sources are not available. The fruit is toxic, so if these birds are common in your area and there are no other abundant food sources, this is a good reason not to plant fruiting nandina varieties. There are excellent fruitless varieties you can consider, such as ‘Firepower,’ ‘Gulfstream,’ ‘Obsession’ and ‘Lemon Lime.’
HEAVENLY BAMBOO DOESN’T SEEM TO BE INVASIVE where I live, and there are other abundant food sources for the birds. I also feed the birds all winter and offer a variety of healthy options for them, so I chose to plant and enjoy the beautiful nandina in my landscape. I like to consider my simple suburban landscape a refuge for everyone whether human, my dogs or the wildlife. In 2021, be well and please, plant wisely.