Nandina domestica, also called heavenly bamboo, is a plant that grows in my woodland garden. It was already here when we came in 1985, and I have loved its lacy foliage and bright red berries. It is absolutely a low maintenance plant, requiring no fertilization, no extra watering, and no pruning. It will survive draught, floods, and fire and is deer and rabbit resistant. Individual plants can have a life span greater than a hundred years.
The perfect plant? Unfortunately, no. In many areas of the South the species is considered an invasive plant. In my state, Alabama, it is listed as a plant of concern. Nevertheless, it is widely sold in garden centers, and about the only way to get rid of mature plants is with chemical herbicides, though smaller plants can be pulled by hand.
Nandina is native to eastern Asia. Despite its common name, heavenly bamboo is not a bamboo at all. It is a member of the Barberry family, but its beautiful leaves do resemble bamboo leaves. The species grows five to eight feet tall, though there are many dwarf cultivars available. Nandina grows best in humous rich, well drained soil in sun to partial shade. It will grow in dry shade, producing fewer berries. It survives in hardiness zones 4-10, though the normally evergreen plant may not prosper and will be deciduous in the coldest regions.
Young leaves are bright pink, turning to green in early summer, then taking on bronze and rosy hues in autumn. In early summer, eight to twelve inch clusters of white flowers are held above the foliage. The flowers are followed by green berries that mature to bright red in late fall.
All parts of the plant are poisonous to humans. Warning! Ingestion can be fatal. Research shows the berries are also toxic to birds and other wildlife, who do not always recognize them as poisonous.
Some of the cultivars do not produce fruit and should not be invasive. One I have planted is Nandina 'Firepower'. It is a dwarf form with multihued leaves which provide wonderful color accent in the garden. I like the way it complements other plants in the garden.
As mention previously, nandina doesn't usually require pruning, but if desired for size control, pruning can be done any time of the year. Never sheer across the top. Instead, prune individual branches at different heights throughout the plant. I don't fertilize mine, but an evergreen fertilizer may be applied once a year if needed.
Addendum: Please read about my decision to take out the nandinas, as well as the mahonias, in my garden: My Decision