Nandinas need different care

This old planting of regular nandinas would look better if the tallest 50 percent of the canes were cut completely to the ground and allowed to send up new shoots.

Nandinas produce their growth on straight stalks. New stems sprout up from the bases. None of these stems normally produces any side branches.

This planting of nandinas has been cut repeatedly across its top. The bare stems and clumping tops are proof of the years of mistakes. Click image for larger view.

Most of us are used to trimming shrubs “back.” We reduce their height by 20, 30 or 40 percent. You don’t do that with nandinas because they don’t handle the cut stalks gracefully. They produce clusters of clumping shoots right at the cut ends.

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This is one of the worst examples of how NOT to prune nandinas. They’ve been sheared into tall, narrow boxes. They won’t last much longer before they run out of steam. Click image for larger view.

In the process, all the old bottom leaves eventually fall off and you’re left with a grove of unsightly stems. Put in simpler terms, you’re left with a mess.

The right way to prune upright nandinas…
Each year in late January or early February you cut the tallest canes completely to within 1-2 inches of the ground.

This is how a bed of compact nandinas looked at our house before I used lopping shears to cut the tallest canes back. Click image for larger view.
And this is how the same bed looked a couple of hours later. You can see the loppers and the length of the stems I removed. Soon new shoots filled their spaces. Click image for larger view.

In a normal time, you’d want to cut the tallest 1/3 of canes, perhaps as many as 1/2 of them.

Two years ago, when the cold did so much harm to our plants, I actually cut all my nandina stems back to the ground.

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As new growth emerges from the compact nandinsa in the Sperry home landscape I take note yet again at what a great landscaping plant this is. Trimming the tall canes back to the ground takes advantage of that new growth. Click image for larger view.

I follow that trimming with an application of all-nitrogen, lawn-type fertilizer to promote vigorous new growth coming out of the winter. It’s not uncommon to get 8-15 inches of lovely red new foliage shooting up from each stalk within just a couple of months.

There may be need to do a little light additional stem removal during the rest of the year, but usually that one trim in late winter is all that is needed.

A note about nandina berries: They’re beautiful, but they do cause severe digestive problems in late winter when cedar waxwings and other species devour them. Deaths of birds have been reported. Gardeners are advised to clip the fruit off prior to that time to avoid those problems, also to lessen the chance of unwanted spread of the seedlings.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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