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Nandinas Top List For Fall, Winter
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Nandinas are among our very best shrubs for fall and winter color, and the next few weeks hold great planting opportunities.
Sometimes called heavenly bamboo, nandina indeed appears somewhat exotic. It is actually in the barberry family.
Our ancestors planted the old-fashioned nandina domestica which is still outstanding. You can't find a better nandina for berries, which are almost as pretty for fall color as the leaves on the newer varieties.
To keep this nandina most attractive, prune about one-third of the canes each winter. If you select the tallest canes, it is not too hard to keep the plants fairly compact.
Four dwarf varieties have captured the lion's share of the market and are indeed well worth having in most landscapes.
My favorite is the Harbour Dwarf. It branches from the ground and forms a dense mound 2 to 3 feet tall and slightly wider. It has a reddish-purple color in the winter and will fruit at maturity.
Nana Purpurea was the most popular for years because of its outstanding color. It gets about 18 inches tall and is great as a border plant or massed in a bed. Personally, I have never gotten accustomed to its cupped, slightly distorted looking leaves.
Fire Power, which originated in New Zealand, does not have the foliage distortion of the Nana. Fire Power grows to about 1 to 2 feet in height and has a dense, compact growth habit. The color that develops toward winter is a fluorescent red.
Gulf Stream is a great variety with good winter color that is intensely red and in the summer almost looks a metallic blue-green. It grows to about 2 1/2 feet tall in a compact mound.
Successful establishment of nandinas in the landscape often depends on planting techniques and care. They prefer to be placed in a shrub bed which is well-drained to moist, loose, nutrient- and humus-rich. Cover with a layer of mulch added to prevent loss of moisture, deter weeds and moderate summer temperatures.
When preparing a new shrub bed for nandinas or other fall planted shrubs, use metal edging, landscape timbers or brick to separate turf from beds and to raise the soil with organic matter for good drainage.
Try to plant in bold curves and avoid planting in straight lines whenever possible to create a mystery as to what lies around the curve. Use three to five basic plants that you repeat in other parts of the landscape. Plant in groupings of odd numbers like seven, nine and 11.
Nandinas work best as colorful foregrounds to taller evergreen plants like hollies, ligustrums and cleyera. You also can create a spectacular look using them in combination with ornamental grass.
The fall and winter colors of the nandina are so bold and riotous that sometimes it is hard to plant flowers with them. This is one time where massing your flowers of a single color is most needed.
For winter or early spring color, plant pansies with the nandinas. My favorites to use with these boldly colored shrubs are the Crystal Bowl blue, and Crown or Crystal Bowl yellow pansy. The blue perennial creeping phlox or Louisiana phlox also work well.
For the rest of the year, we can use them as a background for pockets of color in the summer with petunias, verbenas or ageratums.
Remember when buying shrubs this fall, if the pocketbook is tight, buy larger, container-grown shrubs and smaller trees. It might seem expensive to buy 3 and 5 gallon shrubs, but you will not need as many, and you are more likely then to plant at the correct spacing.