From China and Japan, nandina is a true survivor. Old plants are often seen growing in cemeteries, overgrown gardens, on abandoned homesites, where they fruit and flower for decades with absolutely no care. Nandina takes sun or shade, tolerates drought (although well-drained soil is essential), and has no serious pests. Semievergreen or deciduous in the Upper South; leaves drop at 10F and stems are damaged at 5F, but plants usually recover quickly.
Nandina belongs to the barberry family but is reminiscent of bamboo in its lightly branched, canelike stems and delicate, fine-textured foliage. Remarkably upright, its growth is slow to moderate, reaching 68 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide. It spreads slowly by stolons to form large clumps. Can be divided in fall, winter, or spring. Leaves are intricately divided into many 1- to 2-in., pointed, oval leaflets, creating a lacy pattern. Foliage expands pinkish and bronzy red, then turns to soft light green. It picks up purple and bronze tints in fall and often turns fiery crimson in winter, especially in sun and with some frost. Pinkish white or creamy white blossoms in loose, erect, 6- to 12-in. clusters at branch ends in late spring or early summer. If plants are grouped, shiny red berries follow the flowers; single plants seldom fruit as heavily. Berries supply winter food for birds; clusters cut for holiday decorations last a long time. Birds will also spread the seeds, so plants may appear where you didn't plant them. Resistant to damage by deer. Good for screening, containers, and planting in narrow beds. Nandina will not scratch cars or people. Selections include the following.
'Blush Pink' ('AKA'). To 2 ft. tall and wide. Foliage emerges bright pink in spring, turns red in fall and winter. No berries.
'Compacta'. To 45 ft. tall, 3 ft. wide. Very lacy looking, with more canes and narrower, more numerous leaflets than the species.
'Fire Power'. To 2 ft. tall and wide. Red-tinged summer foliage turns bright red in winter.
'Flirt' ('Murasaki'). To 12 ft. tall and 12 ft. wide. New growth is bright red fading to dark red and green. Hardy to -10F (-23C).
'Gulf Stream'. Slow-growing, dense mound to 3312 ft. tall, 112 ft. wide, with blue-green summer foliage and good red winter color. Does not sucker. No berries.
'Harbour Dwarf'. To 23 ft. tall. Rather than forming a discrete clump, it spreads by rhizomes to make a good ground cover. Foliage has orange-red to bronzy red winter color.
'Moyers Red'. Standard-size plant with broad leaflets. Brilliant red winter color in regions that get frost. Flowers are pinker than those of the species, and berries ripen a month or two earlier.
'Nana' ('Nana Purpurea', 'Atropurpurea Nana'). To 2 ft. tall, 23 ft. wide. Coarse foliage is purplish green in summer, purplish red to bright red in winter. Leaves typically show cupping, curling, and color streaks. Much overusedand out of place in most gardens. A nice gas station plant. Not known to flower or fruit.
'Obsession' ('Seika'). To 34 ft. tall and 34 ft. wide. Hardy to -10F. Red new growth.
'Plum Passion'. Grows to 45 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide. Narrow leaves are deep purplish red when young, deep green during summer, and reddish purple in winter.
'Sienna Sunrise'. Slow grower to 34 ft. tall, 212 ft. wide. Foliage is fiery red when new; it matures to medium green by summer, then picks up red highlights again in winter.
'Woods Dwarf'. Slow, dense grower to 112 ft. high and wide. Foliage turns crimson-orange to scarlet in winter.
N. d. leucocarpa ('Alba'). Similar to the species in size and shape, but berries of this selection are creamy yellow and the light green foliage lacks the typical reddish bronze tinge.
Nandina grows best in rich soil with regular water, but its roots can even compete with tree roots in dry shade. In alkaline soil, leaves may appear yellow with green veins due to iron deficiency. To reduce height, use hand pruners, never hedge shears. Maintain a natural look by pruning each stalk to a different height, cutting back to a tuft of foliage. Renew neglected clumps by cutting one-third of the main stalks to the ground each year for three years.