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December 16, 2017
Right now my nandina plants are beautiful with bright red berries. I have a neighbor
who has told me that I need to dig them up because the berries are poisonous to birds.
My grandmother grew this plant and she had also fed the birds, and I never saw any
dead birds. Are the new varieties more toxic than the old fashioned ones?
If you do a search on the internet you will get a lot of hits about the toxicity of
nandina berries and that they are deadly to birds—in particular cedar wax wings.
I think we all need to step back a bit and look at the problem. The incident that
generated all this uproar happened in 2009 in Georgia. Many cedar waxwings were found
dead in a yard in Thomas County, Georgia, in April, 2009. 5 birds were examined and
their bodies were full of nandina berries and it was determined they died from cyanide
poisoning. Nandina domestica berries contain cyanide and other alkaloids, but so do at least 2000 other plants.
Certain weather conditions such as huge swings in temperatures or drought conditions
may increase the concentration of cyanide in some plant species. Presumably, similar
weather conditions during late winter and early spring in the study area might have
favored increased cyanogenesis in the nandinas. The combination of the weather, along with the feeding habits of the
cedar waxwings is believed to have caused the incident. Because of their voracious feeding behavior, the birds have eaten toxic doses of Nandina domestica berries. At any time of year, cedar wax wings may appear suddenly, gorge themselves
on berries, and move on; a flock of waxwings can strip a tree of berries in a matter
of hours. In 2010 hundreds of dead cedar waxwings were found on a highway in Texas
eating overripe blueberries. According to www.allabout birds.com, "Because they eat
so much fruit, cedar waxwings occasionally become intoxicated or even die when they
run across overripe berries that have started to ferment and produce alcohol." Toxicity
associated with nandina was not previously reported in Cedar Waxwings. I do not believe new species contain any
more cyanide than older varieties. In fact, many of the new cultivars of nandinas
are fruitless—they do not bloom or set berries. While I hate to lose any birds, I
don’t think we need to totally remove the nandinas. Cutting off the berries in mid-winter
could prevent the issue. It also will solve the invasive issue, since many birds
eat the berries and drop them, causing them to spread and become invasive in parks
and natural areas.
April 22, 2017
I live in a rural part of Conway, have been on the same farm for 30 years. We recently
saw what appears to be nandina growing in a part of the woods ... a part of the woods
we see daily and this is the first time we have seen these plants. I suspect they
may have been sown by bird droppings? About a month ago we dug up about a dozen of
them and replanted in the yard. In the last week, several of them have dropped their
leaves and either have lost their red berries or the berries have turned dark. Do
you think they are dead or could possibly make a comeback? We love the look of this
Their reseeding and sprouting in natural areas is one of the reasons some gardeners
don’t like nandina. I do admit that I like them and have a few in my yard—some are
the fruiting types and some are not. I think your plants are simply in shock. Make
sure you aren’t keeping them too wet, as wet feet is the only thing they don’t like.
Be patient and my guess is they will bounce back. The best time to transplant plants
is in the dormant season between November and February.
I am removing nandina around the foundation of my house. They are probably at least
20 years old and have spread all along the bed behind the azaleas. I have to use a
pick ax to uproot thick clumps of roots. Then I hand pick out the long running roots
extending out every direction. My question is will I need to sift through to get all
the little bits and pieces that this destruction is creating? There are fat white
runners and brown woody runners. I'd like to not have to do this again in another
Nandinas are tenacious plants and it is possible they will sprout from the roots that
are left behind. The key is to monitor the garden and if you see sprouts weed eat
them down or cut them off. Eventually you will wear them out. I don’t think you will
get 20 years worth of regrowth from sprouts versus established plants. I like nandinas,
but I know many gardeners do not.
I have two dwarf nandinas that have grown larger than I want. Can these be trimmed
back severely, and if so, when is the best time to trim them? I also have boxwoods--Is
it too late to trim these? I usually trim them in early spring and again in October.
Dwarf nandinas can occasionally get overgrown, and can be pruned if needed. They tend
to grow fairly slowly, so annual pruning is not needed. If you plan to prune I would
do so as soon as possible. I prefer to prune nandinas as they green up in the spring
of the year, to allow ample time for recovery before fall and winter—their prettiest
season in my opinion. The reason I wouldn’t prune much later is when the summers get
horrid, there is little new growth on our plants—they conserve energy to survive.
Boxwoods can be shaped as needed, but do keep in mind that most of the foliage on
these plants is on the exterior of the plants. The outer foliage is so dense, there
is little growth on the interior of the plants. Allow recovery time, since they often
look fairly ugly following a good pruning.
I hope you can help. I have seen a lot of small bright red bushes in the neighborhoods
near my home. They don't have any berries, but they are a brilliant red and very compact.
When I asked someone what they were, they told me nandinas. I have nandinas in my
own yard, and they have red berries, but not red leaves. They are also quite a bit
taller than the plants I'm talking about. Is it possible that these are one in the
same? I don't think it’s possible. Can you tell me what they are if you know?
The plants are indeed nandinas, only different varieties than the ones you have. What
you have is a standard nandina. The small plants are dwarf nandinas. There are quite
a few different varieties including 'Harbor Dwarf', 'Nana', and 'Fire Power'. The
color may vary somewhat depending on variety, but most of the dwarfs turn brilliant
shades of red or orange in the winter months, and are simply green during the summer.
They rarely get taller than two feet in height and do not set berries.
I transplanted some young nandinas and last summer something was eating the leaves.
I suspected insects. However, just in the last week something has been eating tender
stems off and even some branches of a young arborvitae. Would squirrels do this?
To be honest, I have never known of anything to eat nandina's or arborvitaes (except
bagworms for the latter). Squirrels, deer, raccoons, are among the possible culprits.
If you notice new activity, sprinkle flour around the base of the plants and see if
you can spot any tracks, then work on repelling or trapping them.
I have a new home that is surrounded by woods. We have quite a few deer that we are
feeding in the woods. I want to landscape the front of my house soon. Can you tell
me any plants that deer are not interested in? The house will have northern exposure.
The sun comes across the house so the front has sun most of the day.
We do have a list of deer resistant plants that we can send you. However, one word
of warning: if you are feeding the deer, you are encouraging them. As long as you
continue to have food for them, they should be happy, but if it runs out they can
wreak havoc on your landscape. If desperate enough, they can begin to feed on supposedly
deer resistant plants. Boxwoods and yaupon hollies are two standard evergreen plants
that they usually steer clear of. Others include buckeye, elaeagnus, abelia, nandina
and aucuba. On the flip side, they love azaleas, hosta and daylilies, so you may want
to avoid those.
I want to move some red berry bearing Nandina shrubs. What is the best time of the
year to do this?
Nandinas are tough plants, but I would try to hold off until fall when things cool
off. If moving them is a must because of construction or something similar, they can
be moved now, watered well and should recover--they will wilt and look sick for a
few weeks. If you wait until they are about to go dormant in the fall, the shock of
transplant is much less and you don't have to be quite as diligent with their care.
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