How to prune nandinas?

Pruning 101-Nandina

Nandina, or Heavenly bamboo, is a deservedly popular landscape staple in the south. Few other shrubs are super-low maintenance, are sun and shade tolerant, have attractive feathery leaves that are a lovely bronze in spring and showy red for fall and winter, plus many varieties flower nicely and adorn themselves with brilliant red berries. They are by nature fairly slow growing and rarely outgrow their location. What’s not to love?

The only flaw, and a minor one at that, is that they can become overly thick with age, or develop an irregular shape. I say minor flaw because it is so darn easy to prune them properly, and late winter is the best time to prune Nandina in the Piedmont. There are several forms of Nandina that vary in size from about 2 feet to well over 6 feet, but the basic technique is the same. As far as frequency goes, dwarf or groundcover Nandinas may need little if any pruning, with perhaps only the occasional tall stem removed; taller varieties may begin to show bare stems that need removing yearly.

You’ll need a good pair of pruners, or loppers for very old, thick canes. Remove the tallest, oldest canes, or any that lean or cause the overall shape to become irregular and awkward. In addition, if the clump is very thick and the foliage seems crowded, thin out by removing a few of the oldest or thickest canes. Prune the canes out all the way to the ground and don’t remove more than 1/3 of the total canes. This will encourage fresh, new stems to sprout with beautiful new foliage. Never shear Nandina as it destroys the soft, informal character of the plant.

Pruning Nandina

How to prune nandina?

The thought of pruning Nandina begs the question WHY? Why prune such a beautiful plant? She has amazing red – green colored leaves, wonderful stems and incredible red fruit clusters, who would want to cut that?? Plus, if you do choose to prune your Nandina it’s important you know her ‘Achille’s heel’. And that is, that she grows VERY slowly. Her one major disadvantage. (Yes, I think Nandina is a girl 😉

Note – The Nandina shrub has a unique growth pattern, which is bottom up and there is no reason to prune its leaves unless they’re broken or dead. I generally recommend to leave them alone and let them grow.

What would you like to achieve? There are two reasons to prune Nandina, one is to encourage new growth, as always, but – the thing is that this new growth, when it finally comes, requires a different approach. When pruning Nandina you should be more sporadic. Don’t cut all the branches, rather pick and choose. One of the different things about her is that she needs strong live stems in order to grow and develop more. The second reason is to maintain its height. The idea is to be selective about the stems you prune and those will slowly reach the same height as those you didn’t prune. It’s a game of growth at different heights – very interesting to watch – and in the future the stems you pruned will reach the height of the stems you didn’t prune, which in the case of Nandina is very important. Like with every plant, most of the Nandina’s energy is invested in developing and producing new leaves, flowers and often fruit. In this case, that energy travels straight up leaving the stems beneath the canopy naked. If you’re ok with that, great. But, if you would like a more bushy look you need to prune a little off the height in order to encourage new growth in other places along the stems.

When to prune? Best time for pruning Nandina is in early fall, after you’ve enjoyed her bloom and growth. Early fall is a good time to help her prepare for next season. Remember that your Nandina has invested all of her energy in your garden over summer, so now it’s time for you to let her crawl slowly into dormancy, rest, and prepare for next seasons challenges. You can prune Nandina throughout summer, but in order to be more accurate and tuned into her natural cycle, I do advise you to stick with early fall. – This is because she will have depleted her energies by the end of summer, and what you want, is for her to enter winter and dormancy on the verge of a growth spurt first thing in the spring. If you plan carefully, you can actually make that happen in early spring, but from my experience early fall is better. Nandina is a very slow grower, unlike other shrubs, pruning as soon as she wakes up can make her slow down her growth further. So, yes, you can prune her in early spring, but like I said fall is better.

Pruning Nandina – No Acceleration Here

Where to prune? At the same place, in three different places J Puzzled? I’ll explain: As you can see in the picture, the stems have nodes and buds – which means you’re pruning at the same place – like most plants, prune half an inch above the node or bud leaving a little bit of the stem. As for the three different places – it means pruning at three different heights. J

Why? If you look at the picture you’ll see a few stems (Some without leaves at all). The best place to prune is always above new growth, but I suggest you cut in three different places. The benefit of that is that your Nandina will produce new growth at different heights, giving you the more bushy look we were talking about earlier.
I usually prune at different heights because I always consider the design aspect. Of course you can prune hard, but as I mentioned earlier, Nandina needs her time… she grows so slowly that if you prune too much you won’t get to enjoy her blossoms and fruits next season. Also, if you look closely you will see that I didn’t only mark three different heights, I marked three different stems. Prune smart! It’s easy, and far more rewarding.

Just making sure I was clear about where to cut 😉

No matter what stem you chose, and at what height, always maintain these basics:

1. Cut at an angle

2. Cut half an inch above the bud or node

(See the red markings in the picture)

My personal recommendation

For pruning Nandina I like to use bypass pruners. The stems and branches of the Nandina require very strong, sharp pruners. I would also choose to work with short blades in this case.

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Nandina Plant Pruning: Tips For Cutting Back Heavenly Bamboo Shrubs

If you want a tall easy-care shrub with showy flowers that doesn’t require much water, how about Nandina domestiica? Gardeners are so thrilled with their nandina that they call it “heavenly bamboo.” But nandina plants can get leggy as they grow taller. Pruning heavenly bamboo plants keeps these foundation shrubs dense and bushy. If you want to learn how to prune nandina, we’ll give you the top tips on cutting back heavenly bamboo.

Nandina Plant Pruning

Despite the common name, nandina plants are not bamboo at all, but they resemble it. These tall shrubs are both stiffly upright and very graceful. Adding them to your garden adds texture and an oriental touch.

Although you probably need to prune heavenly bamboo to keep it looking its best, the shrub offers so much in return. It is evergreen and provides ornamental features in every season. In spring and summer it offers frothy white flowers that turn to bright berries in autumn and winter. Nandina’s leaves turn red in the fall as well, while new foliage grows in bronze.

You’ll find that heavenly bamboo comes in different sizes. Dwarf cultivars are available that stay under 5 feet (1.5 m.) tall. Other shrubs can get to 10 feet (3 m.) tall. They have a lovely, natural shape and it is a mistake to try to shear them into shapes. But pruning heavenly bamboo plants to keep them bushy is worth the effort. Nandina plant pruning allows for a fuller plant.

How to Prune Nandina for Density

Keep in mind that pruning heavenly bamboo plants severely is not always necessary. The shrub grows slowly and keeps its shape. But an annual pruning in early spring allows taller cultivars to produce new shoots and lacy foliage at lower levels of the trunk.

Keep the rule of thirds in mind. Get out the pruners or loppers in winter or early spring and begin. Start by cutting back heavenly bamboo canes. Take out one-third of the total number at ground level, spacing those you remove evenly throughout the bush.

Then, prune heavenly bamboo stalks – one-third of those remaining – to reduce their height. Snip them off above a leaf or leaf bud about halfway down the cane. As they sprout new growth, they will fill in the plant. Leave the remainder of the plant unpruned.

Pruning Nandina easily, the perfect low maintenance plant, for Portland residential landscapes

I promised I would follow up from my last blog about Nandina domestica – Heavenly Bamboo and how seriously low maintenance they are. I’ll give you my easy pruning trick for Nandina and you’ll be all set to use this shrub, a low maintenance year round beauty, in your Portland landscape.

What’s the problem with shearing Nandina?

If it’s so easy to prune why do we see so many sad looking Nandina out there? People try to prune them like a boxwood hedge. Boxwoods have a typical shrubs’ woody structure and little tiny leaves. They can be sheared and look pretty good. Nandina are a multiple cane plant with a compound leaf composed of many oval shaped leaves. The best way to ruin their appearance is to shear them into little round balls or squares.

Restore leggy sparse leafed Nandina plants

These photos illustrate embarrassing ugly examples of Nandina out there in commercial and residential landscapes. These sad plants at my local bank have not been pruned at all. If yours look this bad, hold off on tossing them.

We could correct these ugly leggy Nandinas’ appearance in one year by applying the pruning technique I have illustrated here. These Nandina domestica ‘Gulfstream’ could look amazing with regular irrigation and pruning once every year or two.

My drawing “Fix Leggy Nandina” illustrates restoring a Nandina that has developed leggy bare canes (or stems if you like). It has no foliage at the base of the plant.

The Cool Trick to Pruning Nandina

The simplest pruning technique is to cut 1/3rd of the canes to the ground and call it done. This technique will get you a much better plant once the new canes sprout. I control the height by selecting the tallest canes to remove.

You can take your easy pruning a step farther and select another 1/3rd of the canes and cut them at different heights. If you only have 3 canes to work with it would look like my “Fix Leggy Nandinas” illustration and in one year it would have a new cane with leaves on it sprouting from the ground and the stem you cut back would have new stem and leaves above where you made the cut.

When to Prune Nandina

You can prune nandina any time of year here in the Pacific Northwest. I like to remove canes to use for holiday table decoration in the winter but only from a robust plant with lots of canes. I prefer to do restorative pruning (such as in my illustration “Fix Leggy Nandina”) as early as March or as late as May.

How to Prune Dwarf Nandina

The technique is mostly the same, but dwarf varieties like ‘Firepower’ need almost no pruning to contain height and if they get enough sun, they rarely get leggy. The plant can get too wide so I like to thin a few canes out at the bottom (or up to 1/3rd of my canes) every year to keep the plant from ever getting too wide. This allows the little plant to continue serving as a colorful year round foundation plant for the long term in your landscape. Here is a good video to illustrate pruning the dwarf varieties.

Read my previous blog about Nandina “Colorful Four Season Plant”.

Nandina (heavenly bamboo)

Compact semi-evergreen shrub. Grown mainly for its abundant berries and attractive foliage that provides a luscious, all-year-round display.

Erect, gently arching stems, with mid-green finely-divided leaves, above which long sprays of white flowers appear in midsummer. However, Nandina really bursts to life in late autumn/early winter. With arching stems of scarlet berries, born against evergreen leaves, that turn from deep green to various shades of red and copper.

Common Names: Heavenly bamboo, chinese sacred bamboo
Genus: Nandina
Species: domestica
Family: Berberidaceae
Aspect: Full sun or partial shade
Average height and spread: 1 to 2m (3-6 feet)
Hardyness: hardy in the UK

Planting and Growing Nandina

Plant in full sun for the best autumn colour, in a moist well drained soil.

Nandina’s finely-divided leaves, abundant white flowers and red berries contrast well with other architectural plants in the border. Nandina also makes a a good specimen plant but it can look a little untidy unless pruned correctly.

Taking Care of Nandina

Fairly disease-resistant, pest-resistant and trouble-free once established. Hardy in most parts of the UK but sever frosts may cause some leaf loss.

Apply a nitrogen based fertilizer if leaves begin to yellow.

Prune back during late winter or early spring.

A less leggy and more bushy shape can be created by pruning in a layered fashion. To do this, randomly remove one third of the stems at ground level (usually the oldest stems). Leave one third of stems unpruned and prune the other third to half height.

The plant can be fully regenerated by cutting all the stems down to ground level, if necessary.

Propagating Nandina

Propagate by sowing seed or taking semi-hardwood cuttings in late summer.

Popular Varieties of Nandina Grown in the UK

The following varieties of Nandina are popular English gardens:

Nandina domestica is the most commonly variety found for sale in UK garden centres.

Nandina domestica ‘Harbor Dwarf’ and N. ‘Firepower’ are more compact and slower growing varieties, ideal for smaller gardens.

Nandinas come in a wide range of growth habits, with a variety of individual features that make them a versatile plant that can be used in most landscapes. This informational handout will demonstrate how nandinas should be used, how to properly maintain them to keep them looking beautiful, and individual cultivar information so you can select just the right nandina for your area!

Planting a Nandina

Most of the nandinas we grow in this area are very forgiving! They will grow happily in anything from full sun to around three-quarters shade. Several types will even tolerate heavier shade, even if it’s not ideal for them. Simply work in a good amount of compost and expanded shale into your planting area, as you’d use in all normal shrub beds in our area, and nandina won’t be fussy!

Maintaining the Best Looking Nandina
Feeding – Nandinas do fine with a balanced 2-1-1 ratio fertilizer such as our Covington’s Tree & Shrub, but nandinas of all types really do appreciate additional feedings with chelated or acidified iron. This will help your nandinas stay a nice, solid green (when they should be green), without undue yellowing of the leaves. Feed nandinas strongly in the late winter/early spring for a strong push of spring growth, and again in early September.
Pruning – This is one of the most important and often mis-done maintenance steps. Nandinas are not pruned like most shrubs! They only put new growth on from the tips, and nandinas which have been “chopped” across the tops will not grow attractively from that point forward on the stems. Instead they show a splayed-out top growth that isn’t the plants’ best look and not filling in below as most shrubs would after a tip pruning. For most types of nandina, take the tallest one-third of the stems cleanly off at ground level each winter. This rejuvenation pruning will keep your nandina plants full and healthy looking. Prune “nana” dwarf type nandina stems cleanly off at the ground just as you would all the other varieties, but keep your pruning limited a few over-tall, lanky, or damaged stems as needed, since “nana” nandinas do not grow with the same speed and vigor of most other nandinas. New stems will emerge from the ground level to keep the plant continually full and flush, without the hollow or bare areas that improperly pruned nandina will show.
Watering and Mulching – Nandinas like moderate amounts of water. They tolerate neglect and drought, but they’re better with good soil moisture. No unusual mulching is needed, simply maintain the normal 2″ layer of mulch that all of your flowerbeds should have for the best looking nandina. A nice layer of mulch reduces drought stresses on your plants, giving a lush and bright green plant with fewer waterings.
Don’t Worry Too Much – Nandinas are a pretty resilient plant. If you ever do have an insect or disease problem, after treatment and a winter’s pruning, you’ll generally have vigorous, healthy new growth the following spring and a good looking plant once more. (Since most nandinas will have every single stem replaced every three years if normal pruning recommendations are followed, the equivalent of losing a third of the top of the plant every year, don’t sweat losing a cane here, a few leaves there. The plant will be OK as long as you treated the initial problem.)

Selecting your New Nandina
The following includes heights, sizes, and coloration of all of the types of nandinas we carry. Select your nandinas based upon this information. Some nandinas have flowers and berries. Birds love nandina berries!
Blush Pink: A “nana” nandina that grows 2′ tall x 1-2′ wide, Blush is an improved “nana” type with blush pinkish-red colored new growth tips throughout much of the growing season instead of the typical lime green new growth of most “nana” types. Blush Pink has the normal crimson winter color of ‘Firepower’ too, so it’s got some color just about year ’round! Blush Pink does better in light shade during our summer heat. No berries.
Compacta: A more compact variety of the original Domestica nandina, ‘Compacta’ has the upright lacy look of a Domestica nandina on stiffly upright stems, blooms white flower spikes in the spring followed with red berries during the winter. The plant grows to 4-5′ T x 3-4′ W, with bright red winter leaf color.
Domestica: This is the original nandina from which all others came! Upright grower to 6-8′ T x 3-4′ W, the plant will flower white clusters in the spring with red berries during the winter. The winter leaf color is a bright red. Domestica nandina has a very lacy, airy look. Great in grouping or as a natural screen.
Firepower: A 2′ T x 2′ W compact grower, ‘Firepower’ is the standard in “nana” nandinas. Good red winter coloration, bright green new growth in the spring. ‘Firepower’ likes a bit of light shade in our area, and must be watered and mulched well to look right in full sun. No berries.
Flirt: 1-2′ T x 1.5′-2.5′ W, Flirt is an improved ‘Harbor Dwarf’ nandina, with deep red new growth that holds good coloration for months after it emerges. Flirt goes from red winter color to deep green leaves framing deep red new growth during the late spring and summer. White flowers in last spring.
Gulf Stream: 3′ T x 3′ W, has bright scarlet new growth which matures to deep green on a densely-growing plant. Leaves turn red once the winter cold sets in and hold color longer in sunny areas. ‘Gulf Stream’ is a nice tight plant. Occasionally flowers but no berries.
Harbor Belle: 2′ T x 2′ W, Harbor Belle has pinkish new growth with extra-dark green leaves, good red winter coloration, and berries! Harbor Belle will spike white flowers in the spring with bright red berries in the fall and winter. Improved berry production is the primary feature to distinguish Harbor Belle from Harbor Dwarf. If berry production is unimportant, use whichever plant looks better at time of purchase. An improved Harbor Dwarf selection. Better than normal shade tolerance for a nandina.
Harbor Dwarf: 1.5-2′ T x 1.5′-2′ W, Harbor Dwarf has pinkish new growth with extra-dark green leaves, good red winter coloration, and limited berry production. Better than normal shade tolerance for a nandina.
Lemon Lime: 3-4′ T x 3-4′ W, is the first nandina to have lime green new growth which forms a nice contrast to the darker green mature foliage. Great choice to brighten darker spaces and add dimension with its fresh, citrus hue.
Obsession: A sport of ‘Gulf Stream’, Obsession is a newer more distinctive nandina that grows 3-4′ T x 3’ W and has an upright, compact, dense habit with brilliant red new foliage. Displays richer color than other nandinas. No berries.
****Nana: The general category that Blush, ‘Firepower’, and ‘Firehouse’ fall into, “Nana” refers to the original ‘Atropurpurea Nana’ nandina. The above named types are newer and improved varieties of ‘Atropurpurea Nana’. Most refer to ‘Firepower’ and “Nana” interchangeably, as the obvious differences are minor, but ‘Firepower’ is free of a virus that would twist the leaves of the original and has come to be the default “Nana” type. Few people grow the original ‘Atropurpurea Nana’ anymore.

If I could grow only one ornamental shrub in my garden, it would probably be nandina — Nandina domestica, nicknamed heavenly bamboo. The evergreens thrive in sun or shade and tolerate wet or dry soil. I’ve never seen disease or pests bug them.

During the year, nandina puts on quite a show. In spring, it bears long panicles of flowers that start out as pink buds and mature to white flowers with yellow anthers. The new leaves are copperish to purplish, maturing to blue- green. I especially like the foliage’s fine texture.

In fall, the berries that follow the flowers begin to ripen. By the holidays, the berries are as red as a male cardinal. I’ve planted several nandinas in my all-evergreen front garden where they get afternoon sun. I love the contrast of the large clusters of red berries against the colors of my home, which is gray-stained cedar with white trim. To decorate our home for Christmas, I need only hang an evergreen wreath with a red bow on the front door and put electric candles in the windows.

Nandina also grows nicely in good-sized containers with adequate drainage. Even during the heat of July, the containers need only periodic watering because nandina thrives on minimum moisture.

In fact, it’s almost impossible to kill nandina. I’ve planted dried-up, sticklike stems of nandina. They don’t do much the first year, but later I’ve walked by some of these so-called dead sticks to see little green leaves poking through the soil.

Nandina can be used in various ways.

A home in the Marlbank Cove area of York County planted them into an attractive hedge.

They can be used as stand-alone specimens or clustered in masses for eye-catching drifts of green and red. They are especially nice plants for camouflaging those ugly green utility boxes because they’ll rebound from any harsh pruning utility workers may do to them.

Needless to say, I’m always looking for new varieties of nandina. A couple years ago, I ordered Nandina alba from Fairweather Gardens (www.fair because I could not find it locally. It’s called the white-berried form, but really the fruit takes on a golden-ivory color that I find quite attractive. The leaves turn a light yellow-green in winter. Mine gets only morning sun, so the berries stay fresh looking until spring. Last fall, I found more white nandinas at Smithfield Gardens in Suffolk.

My gardens also feature other nandinas.

Firepower grows 30 inches tall and bears no flowers or fruit. In the sun, it glows a fierce red. The plant is perfect for small spaces because it seldom, if ever, requires pruning.

Moyer’s Red, which sometimes can be difficult to find, grows 6-feet tall, making it an ideal plant to use in a hedge arrangement for casual privacy. Winter foliage is glossy reddish with a tinge of purple; its flowers and berries are pinker and redder.

Plum Passion offers few, if any, berries, but its foliage is well worth the effort. The new growth is purplish-red, turning to green in summer. It can get a little floppy if left to grow too tall, but some moderate trimming keeps it in check.

Harbour Dwarf functions as a lacy, fine-textured groundcover with soft green foliage that emerges bronze in spring, then turns shades of red in fall. It flowers and fruits with age.

I discovered Royal Princess by accident last fall at Anderson Home & Garden Showplace in Newport News. Nursery manager Eric Bailey calls it a nice plant. Each leaflet is narrower and reduced in size compared to standard nandina.

Anderson’s offers another new one — Harbor Bell, which grows 18 to 22 inches tall, features green and burgundy winter foliage and bears red berries.

Other nandinas I hope to pick up this year include San Gabriel, a dwarf with fine leaves; Moon Bay, which grows 11/2 to 2 feet tall; and Gulf Stream, another smaller variety with good red interest.

If nandina gets leggy and bare looking, especially at the bottom of the plant, you need to prune it. No matter how hard you prune nandina, you can’t permanently harm it. The proper way to prune the plant, however, is to annually remove or cut back old canes at varying lengths; this is a process called staggered pruning.

On the downside, the plant produces many baby plants that spring from underground rhizomes. To me, that’s a small nuisance compared to the bigger problems associated with many other plants.

SEE NEW NANDINA AT SHOW. The new nandina Sienna Sunrise debuts at Outdoor 2003 Friday through March 9 at McDonald Garden Center in Hampton.

The Monrovia-marketed plant grows 3 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide with fiery red new foliage that cools to a lush medium green in summer. Red highlights reappear in fall and winter. It puts off occasional spring blooms in airy 6-inch-long panicles of small white flowers. Mass it in groups or tuck it into an architectural nook.

The three-day home and gardening show also features educational speakers, exhibits and display gardens.

At 4 p.m. Saturday, California-based cookbook and garden author Renee Shepherd gives growing and cooking tips for new seeds and exotic herbs.

Here are some additional events:


* 10 a.m., moles and voles

* 11 a.m., landscape-design


* Noon, colorful perennial


* 1 p.m., real estate workshop

* 2 p.m., let sun in your house

* 3 p.m., living with drought

* 4 p.m., floating gardens


* 10 a.m., moles and voles

* 11 a.m., perennials

* Noon, real estate invest-


* 1 p.m., log homes

* 2 p.m., let sun in your home

* 3 p.m., camellias

* 4 p.m., herbs

March 9:

* 10 a.m., moles and voles

* 11 a.m., lawn care

* Noon, perennials

* 1 p.m., real-estate careers

* 2 p.m., let sun in your home

* 3 p.m., water gardens

* 4 p.m., floating gardens

Show hours are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., rain or shine. Admission and parking are free. For more information, call 722-7463.

BEAT TURF WARS. Late spring is the time frame to install a warm-season lawn; fall is the window of opportunity for putting in fescue.

You can learn the pros and cons of each lawn type during the “Turf Wars” workshop from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday at the James City County-Williamsburg Community Center, 5301 Longhill Road, James City County. Sponsored by the area’s master gardeners, the event is free. Registration is required; call 564-2170.



* Lilies produce stem roots that act as anchors, so they stand up taller and straighter if you plant them 8- to 10- inches deep, according to Brent and Becky Heath, bulb experts in Gloucester. This extra planting depth gives those stem roots the area they need to secure and support the heavy, but beautiful flower heads. To get their summer-flowering bulb catalog, call (804) 693-3966, toll free 1-877-661-2852 or visit online at

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