Skip Bamboo and Plant Heavenly Bamboo Instead (4 Reasons to Plant Nandinas)

Heavenly bamboo or sacred bamboo (also known by its Latin name, Nandina domestica) is a great option for gardeners who want a tropical aesthetic, without the complications of true bamboo.

Nandinas are everything you love about true bamboo—low-maintenance, shrub-like plants with attractive, airy foliage—without uncontrollable invasiveness.

Keep reading for our thoughts on why heavenly bamboo is the best alternative to true bamboo, plus some of our favorite varieties and tips for growing nandinas in your home garden!

The problem with bamboo

You’ve seen it. You’ve seen an overgrown bamboo grove by the highway or in someone’s yard. Bamboo always seems like a great idea…until it’s not.

It’s easy to see why people want to plant bamboo in their gardens. Bamboo is beautiful and exotic, it makes an effective windbreak and privacy screen, it is incredibly low-maintenance, and has excellent disease and pest resistance.

But the unfortunate reality is that bamboo is extremely invasive in North America and can be problematic when allowed to run wild. But controlling bamboo isn’t easy, and even gardeners with the best of intentions will struggle to contain their plants because they grow so aggressively.

The best way to contain bamboo is to plant it in containers, but an even better alternative is to skip bamboo entirely and plant heavenly bamboo instead.

4 benefits of heavenly bamboo

1. Widely adaptable

Despite the name, heavenly (or sacred) bamboo is not in the same plant family as true bamboo, which is technically a grass—nandinas are actually more closely related to barberries.

Heavenly bamboo is native to East Asia, including India, China, and Japan, but the plants adapt well to a variety of climates. Nandina thrives best in the temperate and tropical climates of hardiness zones 6 - 11.

2. Color-changing foliage

    This evergreen shrub provides year-round interest, with glossy green leaves that turn to bronze in autumn and hold their color through the winter. The foliage of nandinas is similar to true bamboo, but the plants themselves range from groundcovers to woody broadleaf shrubs that grow between four and eight feet tall.

    3. Low-maintenance and easy to grow

      Similar to true bamboo, heavenly bamboo is relatively low-maintenance, making it a perfect landscaping choice for busy homeowners and beginner gardeners. Nandinas are generally disease and pest resistant, and require minimal care, saving your money over time.

      4. Not a vigorous spreader

        It's important to note that while nandinas are a non-invasive alternative to spreading bamboo, they are still considered invasive in some states. Be a responsible gardener and check your local regulations and follow those guidelines when choosing plants for your landscape.

        A note on toxicity

        Although the bright red berries of heavenly bamboo are generally considered nontoxic to humans, the ASPCA warns that these berries are toxic for pets and some studies have shown that the berries may be toxic to birds.

        Ideal growing conditions for heavenly bamboo

        Light preferences

        Nandinas are a versatile group of plants that can handle full sun or partial shade locations. As a rule, the more sunlight sacred bamboo receives the more varied and vibrant the foliage, but their tolerance for shade makes these plants an excellent choice for shady areas in your landscape.

        Soil preferences

        Wherever you decide to plant heavenly bamboo, well-draining soil is a must. Nandinas tolerate both fertile and poor soils, but low areas that hold water will lead to root rot, so opt for loamy, sandy soil with good drainage.

        Water preferences

        Heavenly bamboo is technically drought tolerant, but regular watering is required until the plants are well-established in their permanent home. Nandinas prefer deep watering instead of more frequent, shallow watering, so consider installing an irrigation system around your newly planted nandinas until the plants survive their first year. Avoid overwatering nandinas.

        Optimal fertilization

        Fertilizing sacred bamboo is not necessary, but if a soil test reveals that you have poor soil, amend the soil with a balanced fertilizer in early spring, while plants are still dormant. Regular application of organic compost is another all-natural option to improve both soil and plant health.

        Growing heavenly bamboo in containers

        Nandinas are very happy in containers! And even though heavenly bamboo doesn’t spread like true bamboo, planting nandinas in containers ensures that the plant will never sprawl beyond its allotted area.

        The most important consideration with growing heavenly bamboo in containers is to choose a pot that will be large enough to accommodate a fully-grown plant. A good rule of thumb is to choose a pot that is as deep as half the above-soil height of the mature plant. Nandinas have extensive root systems, so choose a pot anywhere between 20 and 70 centimeters deep.

        While there are many beautiful planters on the market, make sure to choose a container with drainage holes, or your nandinas will surely suffer from root rot. Terracotta planters are best since clay is much more breathable than plastic or even ceramic.

        If you want to give the appearance of your sacred bamboo grove growing out of the ground, simply dig holes and bury the containers—no one will be any the wiser!

        Sacred bamboo grows rather slowly, so choose a big enough pot from the beginning and you won’t have to worry about potting up the plant into a bigger container.

        Container-grown nandinas are more apt to dry out than in-grown plants, so keep an eye on your container garden, especially during hotter, drier days. Drip irrigation is especially helpful for container-grown nandinas.

        Favorite varieties of sacred bamboo

        Harbor Belle

        A compact variety with the same range of foliage colors as shrub types. Harbor Belle reaches two feet tall at most, preferring to spread along the ground, with lacy green foliage that matures to a beautiful burgundy in autumn. A widely adaptable variety, Harbor Belle thrives in zones 6 - 11.

        Blush Pink

        Aptly named, this variety’s new foliage emerges a soft pink, maturing to green for a year, and then changing to red the following fall. Fairly compact, Blush Pink averages between two and two and a half feet in height and grows best in well-draining soils in zones 6 - 9.

        Cool Glow Lime

        Cool Glow Lime is the go-to variety for the most bamboo-like aesthetic. This evergreen shrub reaches about four feet tall when mature, and features foliage ranging in color from chartreuse to lime green. Cool Glow Lime is not a vigorous spreader, so it’s perfect for gardeners who need a compact shrub to take up a small space. Grow Cool Glow Lime in zones 6 - 9 for optimal results.


        Another one of our favorite low-growing nandinas, Firepower puts on a spectacular show in the fall, when the lime green leaves transition to a red-hot scarlet hue. Firepower thrives in zones 6 - 9 and reaches no more than two feet in height and spread.

        All in all, heavenly bamboo is the best non-spreading alternative to true bamboo we have found. The low-maintenance, pest-resistant plants are perfect for beginning growers or folks who are just too busy to commit to landscaping that requires more attention. Plus, the evergreen, color-changing foliage is mesmerizing to watch as the seasons change.

        Shop our full collection of nandinas today to find the perfect non-spreading tropical shrub for your landscape.