photograph by L.A. Jackson

Nandina, known for its red berries, brightens up when the weather turns cold and persists through the winter, adding cheerful color to a chilled landscape dominated by dull grays and sullen browns.

Although sometimes called heavenly bamboo, nandina, or Nandina domestica, is a member of the barberry family rather than the quick-spreading, aggressive bamboo.

A native of the Orient, nandina is popular with North Carolina gardeners because of its berries and lacy, evergreen foliage. This species typically reaches about eight feet tall, but dwarf varieties remain four feet or shorter. Smaller nandinas, such as ‘Firepower,’ ‘Gulf Stream,’ ‘Harbor Dwarf,’ and ‘Moon Bay,’ add extra appeal in the fall when their leaves shimmer orange, red, and purple. If you want berries in addition to eye-catching foliage, keep in mind that some shorter varieties don’t produce berries, so be sure to ask before you buy. Most nandina berries are red, but ‘Alba,’ also known as ‘Leucocarpa,’ produces butter-yellow berries instead.

To maintain regular-size nandinas at a desired height, lightly prune them any time of year. However, snipping them back now provides foliage and berries for indoor holiday arrangements. The fresh cuttings should last a long time.

Nandina performs best when planted in well-worked, fertile soil with sun or moderate shade. Once established, this tough plant endures the worst weather conditions, and few pests or diseases bother it. As a bonus, grazing deer don’t usually munch on nandina, so it’s a welcome addition to any backyard.

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L.A. Jackson is an editor, writer, and lecturer. Jackson lives in Apex.