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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, "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

QuestionI 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 old shrub.



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.


(May 2012)

QuestionI 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 5 years.

AnswerNandinas 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.

(June 2005)

QuestionI 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.

AnswerDwarf 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.

(February 2008)

QuestionI 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?

AnswerThe 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.

(Feb. 2010)

QuestionI 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?

AnswerTo 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.

(September 2006)

QuestionI 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.

AnswerWe 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.

(May 2006)

QuestionI want to move some red berry bearing Nandina shrubs. What is the best time of the year to do this?

AnswerNandinas 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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