A Heavenly Plant

A Heavenly Plant


Imagine a plant’s versatility that it could offer itself as a specimen, useful for mass plantings, behave itself in a container garden, have year round interest and in all instances soften garden designs with its unique bamboo-like texture. With all this can you further imagine its adaptability to extremes in temperature, lighting and soil. Behold Nandina domestica and all its glorious forms.

Nandina domestica (Heavenly Bamboo) is not at all related to Bamboo. A common name afforded for its resemblance to bamboo complete with cane-like appearances and feathery, compound leaves with lance shaped leaflets. Tolerant to temperatures below -5 degrees, this evergreen, woody ornamental shrub can defoliate and in some cases die to the ground yet come back with a vengeance in the spring. Enjoying more moderate Jersey winters this plant can offer year round interest. In the spring new growth emerges with bright shades of red and is soon followed by large panicles of creamy white flowers. During warmer weather, Nandinas colors fade to a more soothing blue-green and its flowers are replaced with bright green fruit. As summer intensifies so do the markings of the fruit transforming them to a bright red. Autumn brings with it another change for this chameleon-like plant. The foliage returns to spring shades of pink and red while the fruit holds on and darkens to a fiery red. Local wildlife (mockingbirds and robins) can and will enjoy these natural gifts. Left to its own “Heavenly Bamboo” will grow to eight feet; however it can be kept nicely at smaller heights.

Several cultivars are available to gardeners as growers have realized the potential of this powerhouse shrub. For smaller garden footprints consider Nandina d. “Compacta”, “Harbour Dwarf” or Wood’s Dwarf”. All are excellent cultivars possessing diminutive yet ostensible traits.  “Harbour Dwarf” however, is the most rhizomatous of the three.  For some real intense color markings try “Plum Passion” and “Sienna Sunrise”. Personal favorites, these two varieties offer some of the best shades of purple and red on the market. Both moderate growers, about three to five feet, these two offer the best of what Heavenly Bamboo is all about. Still there are others like “Firepower” that only reaches about thirty inches and represents itself well with brilliant crimson markings. Requiring little or no pruning, this gem was brought to us by way of New Zealand.

Indigenous to Japan, China and south-east Asia, Heavenly Bamboo is very hard to kill once established. Nandina may be grown in partial shade; however, their markings are best in full sun with some protection from hot afternoons. Consider planting a container grown cultivar and thoughtfully place it in a wind protected area of your garden. Nandina enjoys moist, well drained soil and to be fertilized in the spring. Almost entirely free of disease and pests, Nandina is a trouble free plant that has proven to be deer resistant as well. Heavenly Bamboos best fruiting display seems to be when they are planted in masses rather than as a single specimen. Another cool characteristic is that they belong to the Berberidaceae family. When you cut a branch there is bright yellow inside the same as with barberry.

As previously mentioned, these are tough little buggers that have proven themselves tolerant to water deprived areas. Remove the oldest canes in the spring and take your cuttings in warmer weather if you’re so inclined. Nandinas are a choice plant for entryways, patios and foundation plantings. Consider wrapping them around a larger deciduous tree to add depth and texture to your next garden project.  With over sixty known cultivars you’re sure to find a candidate that will suit your botanical needs.


Robert LaHoff

Hall’s Garden Center