Colorful Four Season Plant for Portland Residential Landscape Designs
I like to use Nandina as a colorful four season plant for my Portland landscape designs.
The foliage is colorful year around.
Very low maintenance plants if you know the cool pruning tip.
They are easy to prune successfully so you can keep them for years.
Nandina varieties fit multiple diverse needs in the landscape because they can be small (18″ to 24” tall) or up to 8 feet tall.
They thrive in half or full day sun. Deer don’t typically eat them.
People prune it wrong and then it’s so ugly they remove them – this is so easy to avoid.
Many varieties require a lot of sun and will look leggy and sparse in the shade. They will look so bad they will be removed. Some varieties will take more shade so you have to know which is which. Best practice is to plant in at least 4 hours of strong sun.
People think Nandina is drought tolerant and they don’t water it in the summer……….this ends badly.
Nandina (from China) doesn’t feed our native insects; therefore, overusing it limits food for our native bird population. I like to select at least a few native plants for companions.
Is this plant overused? Some garden designers snub the Nandina plant because it is used in commercial landscapes. Nandina is useful to my Portland residential landscape design clients who want low maintenance landscapes. With the right plant partners Nandina can sparkle in a home landscape.
How I Use Nandina in Garden Designs
Nandina domestica – Heavenly Bamboo (not related to Bamboo)
There is a variety of Nandina to fit every landscape:
- 6 to 8 foot tall ‘Moyers Red’ or 4 to 6 foot tall ‘Plum Passion’ dress and soften an expanse of fence, hide the hot tub or garbage area nicely
- 2 to 4 foot tall ‘Sienna Sunrise’, ‘Moon Bay’ or ‘Firepower’ work well in foundation plantings and entry areas.
Use a tape measure on planting day, assume the size info on the plant tag is being modest and give your plant more room to grow. Some varieties of Nandina will grow 3 to 4 feet wide. To keep your Nandina from getting too wide, I suggest pruning out entire canes at the base of the plant once a year. For varieties that are listed as 3 to 4 feet wide, plant it at least 30 inches off your path.
A new variety called ‘Blush’ is typically 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide. The evergreen leaves turn an intense claret red and hold their color for months, longer and redder than other Nandina. ‘Blush’ was designed for the southern United States where it is fully drought tolerant. In Portland, all varieties of Nandina including ‘Blush’, requires irrigation in summer. Multiple articles on the net enthusiastically state ‘Blush’ is drought tolerant but they do not mean here in the NW. In the high humidity of an Alabama summer I too am probably drought tolerant…..Mint Julep anyone?
I love to combine Nandina with textured or needled plants that contrast with the narrow Nandina leaves. Dwarf conifers, (Pinus mugo ‘Sherwoods Compact’), heather Erica carnea ‘Adrienne Duncan’ or ornamental grasses like Opiopogon (black mondo grass) work well. NW native plants, like salal, sword fern and huckleberry give contrast and good looks. They also provide food for native insects and for our birds who must eat native insects for food. Pairing Nandina with typical cottage garden plants disappoints my aesthetic; there isn’t enough leaf contrast.
How to prune Nandina
The key to success with Nandina is learning how to prune it which is all about thinning the multiple canes (or stems) of the shrub. Read more in my next blog or check out this u tube video I found to get you started.