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Good Nandina, Bad Nandina: A Plant I Hate to Love

Tallahassee Democrat

April 11, 2014

By John Melton

As a responsible gardener, I’ll preface this remark by acknowledging that folks all over North Florida will groan, but I love Nandina!  The common name says it best; Heavenly Bamboo!  Nandina domestica was brought to the USA from The Orient by gardeners as early as 1804 to be used as an ornamental garden plant.  Even though I love it, it must be acknowledged that the species plant is now considered an evil weed.   It is listed by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC) as a Class I invasive, which means that it can and has altered the native plant community.  The berries are attractive to birds and other wild animals that spread them throughout the woodlands.  This is truly deserving of its reputation as the “Bad” nandina!

If you have inherited or purchased an older home and garden in Tallahassee, the likelihood that the Nandina domestica is present is very high.  Only if you are a concerned and constant gardener, and you swear that all your successors and heirs will be as diligent, can you consider that this plant can be managed!  Nandina has a beautiful flower spire in the late spring or early summer.  It is snow white and has a pleasing scent.  That flower spire is the key to management of the plant; as soon as the flowers fade, clip it off.  Although the berries are attractive, they can’t be allowed to develop, knowing the damage that they do.  NEVER let your Nandina domestica go to berry!   If you miss cutting the flowers and find berries as the season progresses, cut them off, and dispose of them by putting in black garbage bags in garbage cans, rather than on the compost pile.

If you can’t swear to be that responsible, and knowing the dangers of invasive plants, what are your options for dealing with Nandina domestica?  The most responsible action is to take it out completely and replace with another plant that will not pose a hazard to the environment.

There is nothing quite like the double pinnately compound leaf.  It is part of the magic of Nandina.  It adds an airy, lacy texture to accent garden beds.   And the good news is there are some “good” nandinas!

‘Harbor Dwarf’ Nandina is a favorite newer variety.  It has a dense compact growth resulting in a mounding shape, 1 to 2 feet tall.   It rarely fruits and is propagated by semi hardwood cuttings in the fall.  The leaves turn from green to burgundy in cooler weather. It is being used successfully in South and middle Florida and can be used with caution here in North Florida.

Other newer cultivars to look for include ‘Gulf Stream’, ‘Firestorm’ and ‘Obsession.’  All of these may occasionally set fruit in our climate, so bear watching for removal of berries.

‘Firepower’ is another new variety that can be used anywhere in North Florida.  University of Florida research in North and South Florida showed that ‘Firepower’ nandina does not flower or fruit (Knox and Wilson, 2006).  It grows up to 60 inches tall with new foliage that appears lime green and ages to a light or medium green.  The leaves may be tinged yellow or red, turning burgundy or red in colder weather.  It differs from the species type of nandina in being distinctly compact, shorter and has broader leaflets.

As responsible gardeners, our challenge is to find the best option for enjoying Heavenly Bamboo by using the “Good” nandinas, and to have respect for our gardens and the woodlands surrounding them as well.

To learn more about Invasive Species in north Florida come to “Leon County Presents: Sustainable Community Matters- Good Plant, Bad Plant”. These sessions will be available April 15 and April 26 in Leon County. For more information go to www.GrowingGreen.org

John Melton is the Landscape Development Specialist at Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park. For more information about gardening in our area, visit the UF/ IFAS Leon County Extension website at http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu.  For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov

 

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