Nandina looks gorgeous in all seasons with hardly any work

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Nandina has panicles of white flowers with showy yellow stamensNandina has panicles of white flowers with showy yellow stamens

Nandinas are perfect for busy gardeners - find out how to grow them and how both the tall and dwarf varieties can enhance your garden, not only with their beautiful white flowers, red berries and fiery coloured winter foliage, but also with their ease of growth and low maintenance requirements.

Heavenly bamboo is one of those remarkably handy garden plants which looks gorgeous in all seasons, will grow in full sun or semi-shade, and is very easy to grow throughout South Africa. And because there is also a dwarf nandina even the tiniest of gardens can sport at least one, even if it’s in a small pot on a balcony garden. Apart from moderate watering, the plants require virtually no maintenance, little or no pruning, except to harvest the occasional leaves or berries to use in flower arrangements.

Gardeners love the lacy foliage of this shrub, which emerges pinkish-purple and turns a lovely soft green before maturing to a darker green. In autumn the leaves start to turn purple to reddish-purple, and if the shrub is planted in full sun and your climate is cold, the colder it gets, the more the leaves will intensify until they become a fiery red. The glossy leaves are generally evergreen, but are sometimes deciduous in colder areas, depending on the conditions in your garden and area.

Sporadically throughout summer and into autumn a profusion of flower spikes appear in arching panicles at the tips of the branches, adorned with small white flowers with showy yellow anthers. In the dwarf types the flowers are smaller and often hidden amongst the leaves. The flowers are rich in nectar and will attract bees and other pollinators to the garden. They are followed by abundant clusters of green berries which ripen to bright red and persist through summer and well into autumn and even winter.

Nandina is a species of flowering plant in the family Berberidaceae, native to eastern Asia from the Himalayas to Japan, and it was cultivated in gardens there for centuries before being brought to England in 1804. Despite its common name “heavenly bamboo”, which was given because of its cane-like growth which looks similar in appearance to bamboo, it is not a bamboo at all.

Nandina domestica is an erect shrub about 2 to 3m tall, with numerous straight, usually un-branched stems, which spread by suckering from the roots and spreading slowly to about 1 to 1.2m in diameter. It sports fiery-red leaves throughout winter.

Nandina domestica ‘Fern Flame’ is a variety which grows +-2m tall and has lovely yellow-green leaves in summer, turning red in winter.

Nandina domestica ‘Golden Flame’ is a variety which grows +-2m tall and has lovely green foliage in summer which turns yellow in winter.

Nandina domestica 'Pygmaea' is prized by gardeners worldwide for its beautiful leaves and its neat round shape. It grows moderately fast and will eventually reach +-50cm tall with an equal spread.

Uses:

The slim straight canes are strong once dried, last well as stakes for vegetables, bulbs and other small garden plants which may require some support.

In the Garden:

Because nandina does not have invasive roots and will grow in full sun or semi-shade, it is wonderful to use almost anywhere in the garden.

Nandina domestica is one of the toughest and most adaptable plants to add a soft accent to gardens of all kinds. Its dainty foliage contrasts well with bold leafed plants and shows up well against light coloured buildings. It thrives in large containers, and if it is tucked into a corner it can reach the eaves of the roof. The straight stems of staggered heights, are always adorned either with flowers or berries, or both at the same time; making this a valuable vertical accent plant to use near entrances, pools and patios. It can be pruned down to any height, and if planted closely together can be used as a screen or hedge.

Dwarf heavenly bamboo is easy-to-grow and still very trendy for gardens small and large. The delicate appearance of this plant makes it a good contrast for bold leaved plants, and if it is planted +-50cm apart and pruned lightly in spring, this little shrub makes a wonderful edging plant, low-growing hedge, or a  neat groundcover for large areas where there is no foot traffic. It is lovely planted in smaller containers and thrives when planted around water or water features.

Because of their beauty and toughness, the dwarf cultivars are excellent to use as a low maintenance groundcover for very large gardens, parks, traffic islands and similar commercial landscape applications.

The finely cut foliage of both the dwarf and tall Nandina contrasts well when grown with other exotics from the Far East like: Plantain Lily (Hosta) with its wide-ribbed leaves, DayLlilies (Hemerocallis) with its lance-shaped leaves, and Red-hot Pokers (Kniphofia).

Nandina berries can persist through autumn and into winterNandina berries can persist through autumn and into winterCultivation/Propagation:

Once established Nandina is one of the toughest plants, adapting to a wide variety of growing conditions throughout South Africa. In cold regions the leaf colouring is very intense in full sun but in semi-shade the colouring will be less intense.

Nandina is hardy to all but very severe frost, having being known to survive temperatures as low as -10°C where it is often cut right back to the ground, only to readily shoot again in spring if the roots have been thickly mulched to prevent them from freezing. Because nandina thrives on sandy soils and tolerates wind it is also great for coastal gardens. These shrubs are also extremely heat tolerant, taking temperatures as high as 43°C; however, in these conditions the plants would do better in semi-shade, and will require regular watering in summer.

Although well-established plants will tolerate wind and survive short periods of drought quite well, nandinas look at their best in the garden if the soil is kept moist and if they are sheltered from strong winds. The plant will drop leaves in winter, especially in cold regions, so try to plant where there is some protection from freezing winter winds which will quickly blow the ragged leaves off the plants.

Nandina prefers a light, moist, well-drained soil, but will adapt to most garden soils, including clay soils which drain well. Add generous quantities of compost and a dressing of bone meal to the planting holes and water the plants regularly until they are established. Feed occasionally during the growing season with a balanced garden fertiliser.

If you do wish to tidy-up the plant it is best done in spring by removing the oldest branches and any weak growth at ground level. You can safely remove up to 1/3 of the canes, and if you are growing a screen or dwarf hedge, you can remove 1/3 of the top growth. Transplanting is best done in autumn or early spring.

It is possible to grow nandina from seed, but germination is erratic and can take several years, so generally propagation is from division of the plants, or by taking softwood or semi-ripe cuttings from the new summer growth.

Just a caution, in ideal conditions and especially in warm, moist sub-tropical and tropical conditions nandina can become invasive, and in the south-eastern U.S. it has escaped cultivation and has become invasive. So, although it is legal to grow this plant throughout South Africa, be aware of this potential.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

Nandina is virtually pest and disease-free and diseased or insect infested canes can easily be pruned out. Constantly soggy or wet soil will cause root rot and other harmful plant diseases.

Warning:

All parts of the plant are poisonous, containing hydrocyanic acid, and could potentially be fatal if ingested. The plant is placed in Toxicity Category 4, the category "generally considered non-toxic to humans." However, the berries are considered toxic to cats, dogs and grazing animals.