Nandina — By Jennifer Miller

Nandina

How many of you had a secret hiding place as a kid? I had several. But then, I grew up on a farm of over 300 acres so there were lots of places to choose from.
My mama had several plantings of nandina or as some call it heavenly bamboo. There was a large clump at the corner of the front porch and another specimen that was about 6 feet tall a few feet out from that one. My sister and I spent many hours playing beneath the one beside the porch. It made a great shady space where we sat entertaining our puppies or digging in the dirt.
As we grew older I can remember my sister and I chasing each other in circles around the larger nandina. One particular time we were doing loops on our bicycles and hit one another as we circled the nandina. Over the years my mama’s nandina has been moved from one location to another as we have put up parking fences and built onto the house. One clump of it still remains in the yard. It has lasted all these years and survives with little to no attention at all. As I parked my car beside it the other day, I thought it was a pretty amazing plant for the ornamental landscape. Its bright red berries were shining and it made me smile.
Nandina or heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) is an evergreen or semi-evergreen shrub. It grows 5 to 7 feet tall and has multiple bushy stems that resemble bamboo. It has glossy bi-pinnately compound green and sometimes reddish leaves. The flowers are white to pinkish and appear from May to July. The berries are bright red and are present from September to April.
Nandina is slow growing adding about 12 to 24 inches per year. They produce rhizomes and slowly spread underground to form small colonies or clumps. Nandina is easily transplanted and can be moved any time of year except midsummer. It prefers moist soil and should be planted in partial shade to full sun. The color of the foliage will vary depending on the amount of sun it receives. Once established they are very drought tolerant.
Nandina is pretty cold hardy and is only damaged at 5 degrees or below but usually recovers. Pruning is good for the plant. It is best to thin out old stems each year or head back old canes at staggered lengths to make the shrub less dense. Renew neglected nandina by removing 1/3 of the oldest canes in the spring of each year. Do this every year until you get it back on track. Nandina’s can be planted in zones 6 thru 9.
Nandina domestica is considered an invasive plant in the US. However, newer cultivars do not produce fruit or the fruit falls before it is mature enough to make a new plant so they are not a problem. When purchasing nandina, look for fruitless cultivars if you are concerned they will become invasive.
The nandina berries are toxic if consumed in large quantities. They contain cyanide. Some populations of small birds like cedar waxwing have been known to die from ingesting too many berries. Birds spreading the seed is how many nandina have traveled and become invasive.
Overall I think nandina bushes are a great versatile plant in the landscape.
Choose the cultivar that fits best into your landscape and let the bright red berries bring you a few smiles. I smile for the memories that the berries brought back to me; the same sister I mentioned above also enjoyed playing “witches brew” with me. An unusual game we made up that produced hours of fun. We would find a container and mix up all sorts of berries and twigs in water and pretend we were making a potion or spell. Maybe we watched too much Gargamel on The Smurfs, but what fun we had. In addition, the nandina berries made the perfect poison red ingredient. For more information on agriculture or natural resources please contact me, Jennifer Miller, at the Jeff Davis County Extension Office: 912-375-6648. Or visit us online at: http://extension.uga.edu/county-offices/jeffdavis.html or subscribe to the Plow Points Ag Blog: http://blog.extension.uga.edu/plowpoints/

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