Gardening Vivian | 26 Feb 2010 05:18 pm

Nandina Domestica – A Wonderful Landscape Bush For Creating an Emphasis in the Garden

Emphasis plants are those that are different to some degree to the mass of plants with which they associate. Their design purpose is to create a gentle or subtle contrast, not an especially dramatic one. The landscape bush, Nandina domestica, sometimes known as Heavenly Bamboo, is a perfect example of an emphasis plant, especially when combined with landscape shrubs of delicate, leaf texture.

Nandina has a clear, upright form, reaching some 2 meters (6 ft) in height, with a spread of about 1 meter. (3 ft) As its common name implies, it has some similarity in appearance to bamboo, with lightly branched, thin stems, and delightfully delicate, lacy foliage. It is most effective when planted in a small group in front of screening shrubs, which are either trimmed as neat hedges, or loosely shaped. Possessing delicate leaf texture itself, it looks incongruous next to course-leaved plants such as Hibiscus.

A very charming feature of Nandina domestica is its changing leaf color through the year, despite it being an evergreen bush. Young foliage has a bronze tint, which turns to a soft, light, green. In the fall, purplish, bronze tints return, while in cold winter climates, the whole plant can be a fiery, bright red. The white flowers are not especially attractive, but the red berries that follow can add a stunning dimension to the shrubbery. For the berries to be numerous enough to make an effective show, plant a number of specimens together, as single plants do not fruit heavily.

Nandina domestica originates from China and Japan, but is suitable for Mediterranean and dry climate gardens under certain conditions. It is hardy to any cold that a Mediterranean winter is likely to produce, and recovers from temperatures lower than -15c. Although not an arid region plant, its water needs are modest, and considering that as an emphasis plant it is best used sparingly, it can be combined with water conserving shrubs like Pistachio, Sumac and Myrtle. The heat and intense light of a Mediterranean summer are more problematical however, and in such climates the plant is best grown in light shade or filtered sun.

Another limiting factor is the alkaline soils typical of most arid regions. Nandina is subject to chlorosis in alkaline conditions, (high pH) where the inability to take up certain mineral nutrients causes a yellowing of the leaves. For this reason avoid planting it next to walls, as residues of building material like cement, raise the pH to problematical levels. Other than in extreme cases, the easiest way to reduce the soil’s alkalinity is to add massive amounts of compost and other organic matter prior to planting, and modest quantities as part of a regular maintenance regime. This should take care of all the feeding requirements of the plant, without the need for adding chemical fertilizer.

Excessive, indiscriminate pruning, spoils the natural shape of Nandina, Eventually though, mature specimens will become top-heavy and bare of foliage towards the ground. This is easily rectified by occasionally pruning old canes to the ground, rather as one should prune Barberry plants, (Berberis thunbergii) which belong to the same botanical family, and with which Nandina domestica combines so well.

My name is Jonathan Ya’akobi.
I’ve been gardening in a professional capacity since 1984.
I am the former head gardener of the Jerusalem Botanical Garden, but now concentrate on building gardens for private home owners.
I also teach horticulture to students on training courses.
I’d love to help you get the very best from your garden, so you’re welcome to visit me on or contact me at

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