Just Try To Kill Nandina!

July 13, 2014 | By | Comments (14)

A nice border of well-pruned nandinas. Photo: genesgarden.blogspot.com

One of the first of many commands my wife gave me after we got married was to rip up all the nandinas in front of my house. “It makes the house look abandoned,” she stated. “If you don’t do it, I will.”

Now that’s a threat an experienced gardener like Grumpy loves to hear. Because I know what it takes to tear out an established clump of nandina. This. (We don’t have one.)


You mean you DON’T have a pink backhoe? Photo: NCDOTcommunications.

See, regular nandina (Nandina domestica), also humorously known as “heavenly bamboo,” grows a nearly impenetrable network of thick roots that keeps expanding every year. Over time, a small clump grows into a thicket the approximate size of Delaware. Extracting a clump using a pick or shovel goes about as fast as chiseling your way out of Alcatraz. Plus, every little piece of root you leave behind grows another plant. So when my lovely bride threatened to treat the nandina with extreme prejudice, I responded thusly.

“Have fun!”

Over the course of a weekend, the nandina clump shrank with the speed of an Antarctica ice sheet calving off icebergs. The nandina won. It always wins.

The Plant We Love to Hate
And that’s precisely why so many people hate this import from Japan. It’s too easy to grow. It grows in sun. It grows in shade. It grows in any well-drained soil. No pests bother it, not even deer. ┬áIt laughs at droughts. Winter cold is its only obstacle. Below zero temps kill it to the ground. Then it grows back.


Photo: freerepublic.com

Rush to Judgment?
But wait a second. Why should a plant be hated just because any moron can grow one? Morons need gardens too. And nandina does have some good points. In the South, it’s evergreen. The attractive green foliage turns burgundy and scarlet in winter. And no plant produces showier clusters of bright red berries in fall and winter. They’re the best berries for holiday decorating, because they’re firm, dry, and last for months. If you’re the artistic sort, you can use them to make something like this for your gate.


Nandina berries show you the love. Photo: Beth Hontzas

Try the Newer Nandinas
While you may hate easy plants, nurserymen love them. So they’ve gone to considerable trouble in recent years to develop nandinas that grow much shorter than the typical 6-8 feet and don’t spread. And if you’re worried about seedlings sprouting everywhere, most of the new ones bear few or no berries. So what’s the attraction? Compact, dense shapes and attractive foliage. Like this one here.


‘Blush Pink’ nandina. Photo: PDSI

This new nandina from our Southern Living Plant Collection is named ‘Blush Pink.’ It grows only 2 feet tall and wide — perfect for massing under low windows or planting in containers. New foliage emerges bright pink before turning green. In fall and winter, the leaves turn bright red. ‘Flirt’ nandina stays even smaller. Its new foliage emerges deep red.

Don’t be a hater. It just diverts your attention from what’s really important. For example, right now your kid’s driving that backhoe. He just destroyed your garage.



  1. CH

    Love Nandina!

    August 17, 2014 at 2:51 pm
  2. Steve Bender


    While I agree that nandinas that berry can spread by seedlings, nandina is not the invasive monster many make it out to be — especially when compared to privet, elaeagnus, honeysuckle, bittersweet, ampelopsis, and other plants. Seedlings are not that numerous and are easily pulled when small.

    August 11, 2014 at 9:28 am
  3. Agarita

    Nandina domestica is invasive in our greenbelts in Texas. While it can be difficult to remove, as the poster from San Antonio pointed out, it can be done. Or if you must keep it, please prune away the red berries (use in an art project or whatever) to keep it from spreading to our natural areas! Plant alternative plants like one of our native hollies, such as yaupon holly or possumhaw holly for pretty red berries.

    August 7, 2014 at 3:38 pm
  4. Steve Bender

    If you cut back your nandinas in summer or fall, you’ll cut off the flower buds for next spring. Without flowers, you get no berries. Also, many of the new, lower growing selections do not produce any berries.

    July 31, 2014 at 11:39 am
  5. Linda

    We have several nandinas but they have never grown berries. We do trim them and keep them approx three feet tall. Would this be the reason for no berries?

    July 20, 2014 at 11:35 am
  6. home, garden, life

    I admit that I enjoy my Nandina. It fills a western exposure foundation border and I consider it bullet proof.
    During their thirteen years in my garden, no pests harbor (other than one sunning black snake wound in the flowers one spring), are not invasive, have a pleasant appearance, tolerate occasional pruning, display attractive berries in the fall/winter, have a soft habit, and generally minds their own business. All of them fully recovered from a difficult winter, when I thought they had died.
    Berries seed from the base, filling in the lower areas of the mature canes, making for a fuller appearance. This inexpensive yet lush addition to my gardens earns its place.
    I have torn out numerous, more costly plant varieties over the past decade, all promising wondrous results.
    If only all plants could be this easy…heavenly bamboo should not be shunned. Find the perfect spot and sit back and relax.

    This garden is in central Virginia.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:29 pm
  7. Steve Bender

    Like I said, people either love nandina or they hate it. No middle ground.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:22 pm
  8. Grumpy Gardener

    Mr. Davis,
    Every person who has written to me complaining that nandina berries are poisonous to wildlife points to the same incident in Thomas County, Georgia, where cedar waxwings gorged themselves on nandina berries to the extent that they couldn’t cram down another berry. Either this incident is quite atypical or people are holding out on me, because no other instance is cited. I have seen robins and mockingbirds eating nandina berries with no ill effects. Maybe it’s because they’re not pigs like waxwings. In any case, many new nandinas on the markets do not produce berries, so if people are worried about birds, they can choose to plant these.

    July 16, 2014 at 3:59 pm
  9. Bev Lee

    Nandina Berries Kill Birds
    Nandina domestica
    Jerry Davis
    Nandina domestica is toxic to birds and other animals.

    You know this shrub as Nandina, Sacred Bamboo or Heavenly Bamboo. Nandina domestica is found in most landscaping mixes in yards, parks, hospital grounds, and other locations in the lower 48 states. Its bright red berries and contrasting dark green foliage add color and texture to landscapes. Some homeowners plant Nandina to specifically to provide food for birds, including the Cedar Waxwing, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Eastern Bluebird and other birds that depend on winter fruits to survive. Nandina berries last for months attracting hungry birds when food is in short supply. However, studies show planting Nandina does not help birds, it harms them.

    When dozens of Cedar Waxwings were found dead in Thomas County, Georgia, researchers at the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, found the cause to be Nandina berries. Read their report. All the birds had intact Nandina berries in their crops. There was hemorrhaging in the heart, lungs, trachea, abdominal cavity and other organs.

    Nandina berries contain cyanide and other alkaloids that produce highly toxic hydrogen cyanide (HCN) which is extremely poisonous to all animals. Sudden death may be the only sign of cyanide poisoning and death usually comes in minutes to an hour.

    The US Department of Agriculture and most states classify Nandina domestica as a noxious, non-native, invasive weed from China and Japan. It has naturalized and invaded our national parks, national widlife refuges, national forests, city parks and other habitats throughout the US. Yet homeowners and commercial landscapers are still planting this toxic species without constraint. In addition to bird deaths in Georgia, bird deaths have been reported in Houston and other parts of the country. Hydroen cyanide is a painful, and unnecessary way for birds to die. Nandina is also toxic to dogs, cats, and many other animals.

    You can help by choosing to remove Nandina and plant natives in your yard. If you don’t want to rip out your Nandina, please prune the berry laden branches.

    Posted with permission from Jerry W. Davis, Certified Wildlife Biologist, Hot Springs, AR.

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    July 15, 2014 at 11:34 am
  10. Laura

    I’m going to try cutting mine back as suggested in the previous comment. Mine are too leggy next to my back door. Thanks for the post!

    July 15, 2014 at 7:41 am
  11. Ann Baird

    I also love my nandinas. I use the berries and foliage for decorating around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    July 15, 2014 at 12:09 am
  12. helena

    A couple years ago I dug SEVEN nandinas out of my parents’ yard because my mother wanted to put in something else. At one point I was too tired to haul the last one up to the curb and just plopped it down next to the compost pile on top of some leaves. It is still there, growing. You literally can’t kill one. I’ve learned though that when they get leggy and ugly if you prune them severely to about 2′ they’ll come back green and lush and make a very attractive plant. The problem is there are just too darn many of them bec. back in the 1950s it seems like people in the south only planted nandinas. So now it’s like we in the next generation are spending half our lives digging them out.

    July 14, 2014 at 10:35 am
  13. Dea

    I know this is going to generate hate mail, but I actually LIKE nandina. The Houston area isn’t known for having the best soil in the world (HEAVY sarcasm!), and nandina is one shrub that grows in it with enthusiasm. And although my roses seem to like the locally acidic soil (probably left over from when this was known as the “piney woods”), a lot of other shrubs that I’ve tried, even those as reputably hardy as boxwood and Indian hawthorne, are not too happy in it. Nandinas love it! And they’ll grow and give you a nice foundation planting in a new subdivision when nothing else will.

    July 13, 2014 at 7:55 pm
  14. San Antonio Gardener

    We got rid of two medium sized nandina plants after buying our house. It took a lot of cutting and chopping over about two years. We were very surprised to find an outside porch light hidden behind one clump. It probably had been years since the former owners had been able to change the light bulb. Finally, we were down to two stumps. We drilled into them and poured a powdery poison into the holes. After another year or so, we were able to completely remove the stumps and plant rose bushes in the holes.

    July 13, 2014 at 6:56 pm

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