How to grow Nandina, common name Heavenly Bamboo

Nandina is one of the best evergreen garden shrubs with all year round interest. In the right place,  Nandina produces white flowers, berries and a strong autumn colour. It's common names Heavenly or Sacred Bamboo, but it isn't in any way related to a Bamboo. It is safe to grow and not a garden thug or invasive, in fact, its appearance it is quite delicate. It is known as Heavenly Bamboo because it has religious associations in China where it is used to decorate alters and it is also very popular in Japan.

I am always surprised that Nandina is not more widely grown as it is a lovely, well-behaved shrub. It has a lovely light form, delicate pointed leaves on branches with an arching habit. It looks a little like a bamboo in that the stems are bamboo like in appearance. It is becoming more popular. About a decade ago, there were only a handful of varieties offered for sale, now there are over 40. 

One of the best things about growing Heavenly Bamboo is it's all year round colour and interest. When the leaves open they take a red tint, which deepens to a ruby read in the autumn. Nandina like it hot and in a good summer with some heat they will produce white flowers as in the image top left. If the growing conditions are good, there can be a profusion of white flowers followed by bright red berries as in the centre image. The colourful nature of the shrub is shown in the image far right. Nandina has a lot going for it and is not a difficult shrub to grow, despite its delicate appearance. 

One of the real benefits of growing Nandina, the heavenly bamboo, is that when it has a lovely autumn colour, and it keeps its leaves as an evergreen. So many shrubs which are attractive in the autumn, such as Acers, drop their leaves. Although classified as an evergreen, it may lose some leaves in a cold winter.

Where and How to Plant Nandina Heavenly Bamboo

Nandina originates from the mountain valleys of Japan, China and India and it is fully hardy to H5. Although fully hardy,  Nandina grows best in a sheltered spot away from chilly winds and on well-drained soil. Nandina is happy on most soils, which are neither too wet nor too dry, and prefers soil on the acid side.

Nandina are attractive shrubs and I would recommend planting in an area with some space around it to enable the shrub to stand out.  I have one growing alongside a couple of other shrubs and I rather regret it as the Nandina gets overshadowed. If I was planting again, or planting another, I would give it more space to be admired. 

It is a low maintenance shrub which does not require feeding or pruning. If it does become overgrown, it should be pruned in April or May, or after flowering.

Be aware the berries are toxic to cats, although safe and loved by birds.

Best Varieties of Nandina Heavenly Bamboo for the garden

There is quite some variance in the Nandinas commonly offered for sale from large shrubs to compact small shrubs. 

 Crocus has an excellent selection of compact shrubs, such as N. Pink blush, and Magical Lemon and Lime.  Thompson and Morgan have some of the larger varieties offered on sale, such as N.domestica, and Gulfstream.(affiliate links) 

One of the most popular varieties to grow is Nandina domestica 'Fire power' which, as the name suggests, has a strong fiery red autumn/winter colour and a largish shrub which will reach 1.5m . Nandina domestica 'Richmond' has the RHS garden merit award and is  said to be more reliable for producing berries and good colour.

'Sunset' is more upright in form with purple new growth. 'Twilight' changes throughout the year. The newest leaves start out pink with white variegation which changes to green and white, and then just green. It is a medium-sized variety at 1.2m.

For smaller gardens, there is a popular variety called "Obsessed" with foliage, which starts red in the spring, turns greener as summer progresses, and then dark red in the autumn and winter. Size60-90cmc with a spread of around40-60cmc.  'harbour Dwarf' an old compact variety up to around 60-90cms. There is also a compact form with zingy citrus lime foliage, called Magical Lemon and lime, both of which are available, with other varieties of Nandina from Crocus (affiliate link)

Not all Nandina produce berries, some N. domestica varieties do, and in particular 'Richmond' which has the AGM reputedly for more reliably producing berries and grows to around 2m. N.'Fire Power' is widely grown in the UK which has good colour but not so good on the berry front.

There are also varieties where the foliage colour tends to be more bronzed than red such as N. 'Seika'  a compact variety growing up to .6m and which needs winter protection and 'Sunset' with purple tinges to the foliage. There are smaller varieties suitable for growing in containers such as 'Tuscan Flame' which grows to around 35 cms.