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Nandinas provide top fall, winter shrub color
By Norman WinterMSU Horticulturist
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
With almost indescribable leaf color and huge panicles of bright red berries, nandinas are among our very best shrubs for fall and winter color in terms of both leaves and fruit. Sad is the home landscape without a heavy sampling of these wonderful shrubs.
Sometimes called heavenly bamboo, nandina does indeed have a somewhat exotic appearance. It is actually in the barberry family and has relatives like the mahonia.
Our ancestors planted the old-fashioned Nandina domestica that 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. In fact, I often have callers looking for this heirloom that has almost become a pass-along.
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 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.
Firepower, which originated in New Zealand, does not have the foliage distortion of the Nana. Firepower 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, intensely red winter color that turns a metallic blue-green in the summer. 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 that is well-drained to moist, loose, and rich in nutrients and humus. Cover with a layer of mulch to prevent loss of moisture, deter weeds and moderate summer temperatures.
When preparing a new shrub bed for nandinas or other container-grown shrubs, use metal edging, landscape timbers or brick to separate turf from beds and to raise the soil with organic matter for good drainage.
Rather than straight lines, plant in bold curves to create a mystery as to what lies around the corner. Plant the nandina in groupings of odd numbers like three, five or seven.
Nandinas work best as colorful foregrounds to taller evergreen plants like hollies, ligustrums and cleyeras. 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. Massing flowers of a single color is most effective in this case.
For winter or early spring color, plant pansies with the nandinas. My favorites to use with these boldly colored shrubs are Crystal Bowl blue pansies, and Crown or Crystal Bowl yellow pansies. 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.
When buying shrubs on a tight budget, remember to 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 will be more likely to plant at the correct spacing.