December 14, 2011

Is This Plant OK?

Is Nandina domestica supposed to look like this?  This is dwarf heavenly bamboo, and it is assuredly not celestial looking.  It looks sick. 
Nandina domestica 'Firepower'. 

The foliage has been a bright offputting orange with streaky white since I planted it this spring.  It has stayed a small clump all season.  Does this plant look OK to you?

I read such glowing reports about nandina before I planted it.  Southern gardeners say it is too rampant and a problem, but northern gardeners say it is a dieback shrub that stays within bounds and delivers so much.  Specifically ---
  • Red berries if you plant en masse (but I only have one).
  • Deep green foliage in summer.
  • Fall color to die for.  To die for.
  • Dwarf size for restricted areas ('Firepower' stays low and small).

I'm not seeing it.  It's gaudy.  Too orange.  Too shaggy blobby.  Too clumpy.
This is 'Firepower' fall color as Wikipedia shows it.

I learned long ago that the first year for a plant in your garden is not indicative of what that plant will really look like.  The puny penstemons became lush specimens after I gave up on them.

The nepeta languished and was wimpy and wispy until the following year.  The amsonias didn't rise to the occasion for three full years.  So many other plants underwhelmed until they got going in a year.

But is this plant OK?  Will it morph into something beautiful next year?  Or is it just unhappy up here out of its normal range?  Does it really have such garish fall color?  Does it belong as a single dwarf blob in this horizontal strip?

There is a clematis that will climb the wire trellis in spring, but for now this is a flat narrow strip, punctuated by a too-bright ball of nandina, and the whole scheme needs help.

Does anyone grow Nandina domestica 'Firepower' up north?  And do you like it?  You are going to need to convince me.


  1. I love the species, with the tall canes. And, yes, I did grow it in Georgia, where it was hardy (Florida declared it an official pest).

    Buuut, I dislike 'Firepower', the short cultivar that supposedly berries a little, not profusely like the species. In fact, I dislike all the dwarf cultivars because they are too diffident. I'm growing one 'Firepower' because I couldn't find the species at nurseries and had to beg some from an Alabama friend.

    My 'Firepower'? I'm leaving it outside for the winter, trusting that it's not hardy. Maybe yours won't be, either.

  2. Lee, thanks for the honest assessment. I too have been sort of hoping this nandina does not make it through the winter. I am considering new plans for the narrow strip against the wall and Firepower isn't in them.

  3. Yes, Laurrie, yours and mine likely will wind up in better places: the compost piles.

    Now, the tall nandina, which I'm growing in a container, is worth saving and will come in when the temperatures drop too low.

  4. Laurrie, I agree with Lee. It may just not do very well as it looks to be struggling, but it maybe worth a wait and see.

  5. Hi Laurie. The firepower isn't as robust as the taller Nandina domestica 'Gulf Stream'. I grow both in zone 7 Long Island. The 'Gulf Stream' is healthy with bright red berries and the 'Firepower' is foliage only. Fortunately I have the dwarf version in a cluster between evergreens in a pool setting and fits well there.

  6. Donna, it does look like it's struggling. I'll give it till next spring, but then . . .

    Landscape by Lee, thanks for this info, I did not realize 'Firepower' is not as robust, and I wish the nursery that sold it had more info on it when I bought it!

  7. I've never grown nandina but it looks like the soil pH needs work, which is why it's growing so poorly and has streaky leaves. Incorrect pH can mimic chlorosis. I've had to correct the pH of different plants before they started flourishing. Don't nandina need acidic soil? YOur brick/concrete foundation is probably leaching lime into the soil, making it alkaline.

    A fothergilla would do well there, provided it gets a bit of shade. How about a Koren spice ball viburnum? But you'd have to move the clematis... I'm curious to know how you solve this. :o)

  8. Tammy, thanks for the good suggestions. This is a very difficult spot for a garden, not only is there concrete and brick, but it is only three feet wide and south facing. I've posted about the challenges before and am still working on solutions! I don't think the nandina is it, though.

    1. Mariposa is right-the Nandina needs a low pH. You have Chlorosis which is a permanent condition, unless you provide a lot of Sulfur(say via Sulfa sol brand liquid, or the pellets that dissolve in water.

    2. Thanks, Mark. At this point the nandina is gone, I ended up re-doing this strip of garden last year. But it's good to know what the problem was!

  9. If you're looking for something low and moundy, have you thought about the dwarf spireas? Many have variegated foliage and fall color, plus they're super easy. Check out this link:

  10. In Virginia, these dwarf nandinas look pretty good until March when they are horrible before new foliage comes out. I understand they were developed as house plants and had surprising hardiness. Never saw berries on the dwarfs but I never plant them for my clients. The big Nandina domestica is an evergreen beauty and bamboo look-alike with beautiful red winter berries but seeds around here.

  11. Donna, thanks for the info. I am learning now about the attributes of these dwarf nandinas as opposed to the bigger one, and kind of wishing I had not put it in. I may take it out after all.


Sorry about requiring code verification -- I experimented with turning it off to make commenting easier, and I got too much spam. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and to type in silly codes. I appreciate hearing from you.