heavenly bamboo

How To Grow and Care for Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica)

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Heavenly Bamboo is a beautiful and useful landscape plant with a bad reputation. Unfortunately, this plant has very invasive tendencies when grown outside of its native range. 

Sterile varieties are available that provide year-round interest but gardeners in the USA are advised to consider planting alternative shrub species. Read on to learn more about this colorful shrub. 

What Is A Nandina Domestica Plant?

The heavenly bamboo, Nandina domestica, is the only species in its genus. This evergreen shrub of the Berberidaceae family is also commonly known as the sacred bamboo or Chinese sacred bamboo

This upright ornamental evergreen is not a bamboo at all. Rather, this plant gets its name from its leaf sheaths which overlap on the stems. It has a cane-like growth form and sends up unbranched stems from a rhizome. Nandina grows to a height of 6-8 feet (1.8-2.4m) and a width of about 5 feet (1.5m). 

New growth on these plants is reddish or purplish in color. Fall color is variable but usually the foliage colors up for the cooler months. The large compound leaves measure 1-3 feet (0.3-0.9m) in length and are alternately arranged, holding leaflets up to about 2 inches (5cm) in length. 

The nandina plant is native to India, China, and Japan. It is very popular in Japan but has proved to be highly invasive when grown outside of its natural range. 

This plant has become invasive in much of the Southeast of the United States. Florida is one of the worst affected states, but it is also problematic in states like Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, Kentucky, South Carolina, and others. 

Heavenly Bamboo Flowers

The Nandina domestica plant flowers in the late spring from about May to June. The blossoms are produced in a large upright inflorescence known as a panicle. The very small pinkish-white flowers measure just ¼-½ inch (6-12mm) across and have distinctive yellow anthers.   

The fruits of this plant are even showier than the flowers. These ornamental glossy red fruits add color throughout the fall and winter. They are about ¼ inch (6mm) in diameter on average and contain 2 seeds. Unfortunately, these fruits are toxic to local wildlife and are spread by birds.

Sterile Varieties

Due to the invasive nature of this plant, only non-invasive selections should be grown. The following are a few of the safer options:

  • ‘Blush Pink’ – This dwarf selection reaches a height of just 2 feet (0.6m) and almost as wide. New growth is bright pink, maturing to deep green.  
  • ‘Firepower’ – This form reaches just 2 feet (0.6m) tall and wide and is sterile. Although it does not produce flowers or berries, the foliage is attractive. Foliage color varies from bright lime green when young, darkening and then becoming bright red in the cooler months. 
  • ‘Lemon Lime’ – This compact form can reach a size of 4 feet (1.2m) tall and wide. It produces bright lime green new foliage that matures to dark green. 

How To Grow A Heavenly Bamboo Shrub

Nandina domestica is a plant that spreads by suckering and is easy to grow by division. It can also be successfully propagated from softwood cuttings. 

For the best results, collect your material in the summer and cut them at the point where greenwood is darkening. Using a suitable root hormone powder can speed up rooting time. 

These plants can be grown in a wide variety of soil types, but they will do best in a fairly fertile soil that is kept moist. Applying a layer of organic mulch over the root zone of the plant will benefit the plant by retaining moisture and suppressing weeds.  

Water this plant during dry spells and until established. They are drought-hardy, however, and do not need supplementary watering in many climates. They grow well in full sun to full shade in USDA Hardiness Zones 6-9. The best foliage color will be achieved in full sun, however. 

heavenly bamboo

Care and Maintenance

Nandina is a very hardy plant that grows easily, but at only a slow to medium speed. It spreads by runners and is easy to transport when small. Removing mature plants can be very difficult.

Generally, pruning for neatness is all that is needed. If you have established nandina plants in your garden, and live in an area where this plant is invasive, consider removing the berries and disposing of them responsibly. Nandina plants tend to be pest and disease-resistant. 

Heavenly Bamboo Uses

Horticultural Uses

Nandina is a fine plant for border and foundation plantings in areas where it is non-invasive. To minimize fruiting, plant this shrub singly. The sterile dwarf varieties are suitable as colorful specimen container plants.

Wildlife Uses

The Nandina plant is toxic to domestic animals. All parts of the nandina plant can cause hydrogen cyanide poisoning and the fruits are poisonous to birds. Birds do, however, eat the fruits and spread the seed widely.

In this way, fertile sacred bamboo plants easily find their way into native ecosystems. The plants are deer resistant and the flowers are very attractive to bees and other pollinators. 

FAQs

Conclusion

It is unfortunate that the heavenly bamboo plants have such negative impacts on native ecosystems. As attractive and easy to grow as this plant may be, its invasiveness and toxicity make it a shrub to avoid. Unless you happen to live in Asia where this plant is not invasive, select only sterile forms that do not produce fruits or consider growing a more eco-friendly shrub.

For more shrubs to grow, check this page: https://florgeous.com/types-of-shrubs/

*image by telev/depositphotos

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