As the long-lasting bright red berries form and the dark green foliage turns burgundy in autumn, heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) shows off why it is a popular choice for a fast-growing shrub with four-season interest. The fact that these broadleaf evergreens thrive under many different soil, temperature, and light conditions, are deer resistant, and have few insect or disease problems is what makes them problematic as exotic invasive plants!
What’s the problem?
Although this Asian native was introduced to the United States in the early 1800s as a desirable ornamental shrub Nandina domestica spreads so quickly from both rhizomes and seeds that it is now invading much of the southeast. Dense clusters of Nandina domestica displace native vegetation and decrease light levels in forested areas.
Bird and mammal impact.
Birds and mammals disperse the hundreds of seeds these shrubs can produce to both developed and natural areas. Nandina berries contain cyanide that can reach toxic levels. Cedar waxwings consuming large quantities of the berries have died from cyanide poisoning. Domestic and grazing animals can also become ill from eating the berries.
Managing Nandina domestica in your garden to prevent its spread
You can hand pull new seedlings, and dig out shrubs, but you must remove all root fragments, so the plants won’t regenerate. Established plant removal is often difficult due to the shrubs’ extensive root systems. If you haven’t yet succeeded in removing mature plants, cut off the white flowers when they have faded before the berries form. If berries are already present, remove and dispose of them in the trash, not your compost pile.
If having difficulty removing large shrubs, you can turn to herbicides, which may require several applications. The North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual recommendations for woody plant control include herbicides containing glyphosate and triclopyr. For most effective control of Nandina domestica, the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station recommends foliar wetting with glyphosate mixed with a surfactant only from August to October. If you prefer to cut back the shrubs, use glyphosate or triclopyr mixed with a surfactant painted on freshly cut stumps shortly after making the cuts. To prevent run-off, make these stem cuts level and close to the ground. Always follow the label instructions for determining the application rate (percent solution) for either method.
Replacing Nandina domestica in your landscape
There are shorter, more compact varieties of Nandina domestica that produce few, if any, berries. Examples include ‘Fire Power’ 2 to 2 1⁄2 feet, ‘Gulfstream’ 3 to 3 1⁄2 feet, and ‘Obsession’ 3 to 4 feet tall and wide, respectively. Obviously, these selections won’t fill the same space and purpose as the original shrubs and if they do produce berries, the berries must be removed to prevent seeding. So, what are your alternatives? Many native shrubs can provide attractive substitutes for Nandina domestica. Recommendations for desirable, wildlife friendly shrubs include:
- Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
- Dwarf Fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii)
- Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)
- St. John’s Wort (Hypericum frondosum)
- Inkberry (Ilex glabra)
- Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
- Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)
Article written by Carol Anne Reynolds, Extension Master GardenerSM Intern.
For more information:
North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual:
A Management Guide for Invasive Plants in Southern Forests: