The berry beautiful nandina

Plus garden to do's for December & January
By L.A. Jackson
The berry beautiful nandina

Want to put some snap, crackle and botanical pop in your dull winter garden? Plant nandinas! Their red berries will brighten up before the Yuletide season and persist to glow cheerfully through the coldest, most drab days of the year.

Sometimes called "heavenly bamboo," nandina is actually a member of the barberry clan rather than the quick-spreading, aggressive bamboo family.

This Far East native has long been popular in Carolina gardens because of its berries and lacy, evergreen foliage. Plain ol' nandina — in botanical terms, the species Nandina domestica — will reach as high as 8 feet tall but can be lightly pruned any time of the year to keep it within proper bounds. However, if you snip this shrub back now, its pretty berries and handsome foliage can be used to accent indoor holiday arrangements.

There are nandina cultivars that restrain themselves to 4 feet tall or less. Some of the berry-producing shorties, such as 'Compacta', 'Firestorm', 'Plum Passion' and 'Harbor Dwarf', add extra appeal in the fall and winter with their foliage simmering in shades of orange, red or purple.

And while red is the normal color of nandina berries, also consider a different hue — the cultivar 'Alba' with its light yellow berries floating on a sea of pleasing, mid-green foliage.

Now is a good time to plant nandina, and once established, it is a tough, dependable plant in the landscape, being able to withstand the wildest swings in Carolina weather, from summer swelter to freezing cold. Although it isn't especially particular about growing ground, nandina shows off best in fertile soil that has been well-worked. It can be located in sun to moderate shade and is rarely bothered by pests or diseases. As a bonus, this berry beautiful shrub is very low on the list of plants favored by grazing deer.

Garden To Do's

December

  • You did start a compost pile this fall, didn't you? If so, it should be well on its way to heating up and breaking down by now, but to prevent cold winter rains from slowing down the decomposition process, cover the pile with a plastic sheet. This has the extra advantage of collecting and trapping more heat from the sun.
  • Add mulch around newly planted evergreens and water them during extended periods when the rains don't come, as, even in the winter, drought can be a problem for these woody ornamentals.
  • Tubes from Christmas wrapping paper can be snipped into 4-inch-long sections and recycled in next year's spring garden as cutworm collars.
  • Rotate African violets a quarter turn every two weeks to prevent the plants from growing off-center as they lean towards their light source.
  • Inspect houseplants periodically this winter for signs of insect activity and dispatch any immature invaders before they can become a full-blown infestation.

January

  • Don't kick the Christmas tree to the curb just yet. Set it up in the backyard as a wild bird haven and make it more hospitable to your winged friends by redecorating with seed bells, suet bars and strings of berries.
  • Shrubs and small trees that were root-pruned last fall can be transplanted starting at the end of the month.
  • To prevent damage to branches, brush snow off of evergreens as soon as possible. Fresh snow is easily removed, while snow that is allowed to refreeze stubbornly clings to foliage.
  • Is your winter landscape looking too brown, too gray, too dull? Liven it up by applying brightly colored spray paints to dried grass stems and empty seed pods.
  • Speaking of winter color, stop by your local garden center, botanical garden or arboretum to see how conifers are lighting up their landscapes naturally in various shades of green, gold, burgundy, copper and bronze.

About the Author

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. If you would like to ask him a question about your garden, contact L.A. at: lajackson1@gmail.com

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