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wide shot of red a photinia plant against a blue sky
Photinia is a fast-growing evergreen shrub or small tree that produces bright red to bronze red new growth each spring. Photinia belongs to the rose family which, apart from roses, also includes apples, pears and many berry fruits. Known simply as “photinia”, this shrub may sometimes be called “red tip”.

What you need to know about photinia

Name: photinia, red tip (Photinia spp).

Height: from 2–6m, depending on variety.

Foliage: elongated oval shape; dark green; new growth bright red–bronze red.

Climate: sub-tropical to cold; very hardy.

Soil: any, provided it is well drained.

Position: full sun preferred.

Flowering: dense clusters of small white flowers; unpleasant fragrance.

Feeding: use a long-term controlled-release fertiliser sparingly.

Watering: water until established, then only sparingly; drought tolerant.

Appearance and characteristics of photinia

Photinias are shrubs or small trees, quite bushy and with dark green oval leaves. They are often multi-trunked, which makes them perfect for hedging, because they thicken up quite quickly. Their main attraction are the masses of brilliantly coloured new shoots and leaves in spring. Regular winter pruning will improve this display. On some varieties the foliage is quite bronze, while others are stunning bright red—"Red Robin”, for example.

Dense heads of small, creamy white flowers will appear in early to mid-spring on shrubs that were not pruned back. They have a strong, not terribly pleasant smell, and are known as a trigger for hay fever or sinusitis in some people.

There are many species and named varieties, but the most popular are Photinia robusta, which can reach to about 6m in height, the slightly smaller (5m) P x fraseri “Red Robin”, and P glabra “Rubens”, which grows to about 2m.

If you’re growing photinia as a hedge and prune every winter then you are unlikely to be troubled by the flowers—the tree will channel its energy into growth instead.

macro view of the bright red leaves of the photinia plant

How to grow photinia in your garden

Photinia is very robust and thrives in most soils, climates and situations.

  1. For hedging, plant photinias out 60–80cm apart—the closer together they are, the quicker they will fill the gaps to create the hedge.
  2. Allow them to grow for a full season before you start trimming them back to create a typical hedge shape.
  3. Don’t forget to trim the sides as well as the tops, otherwise your hedge could end up very wide. The best formal hedge will be one that is trimmed regularly through the growing season—maybe every 4–6 weeks. If you want a more informal look, then trim the top level but allow the sides to grow more naturally.

Watering and feeding your photinia

Once photinia is established, it needs very little attention. Only water when absolutely necessary, during very hot, dry spells or prolonged periods of drought. Photinia has strong roots that grow down deep in search of moisture.

When it comes to feeding, photinia will appreciate an application of 12-month controlled-release fertiliser at the start of spring. This will keep plants healthy and growing strongly. Compost or well-weathered animal manures may also be applied as a mulch over the roots to provide a little extra nourishment.

How to grow photinia from cuttings

  1. When you prune your hedge or shrub in winter, cut some stem tips at least three nodes (segments) long.
  2. Set these into a pot of moistened propagating mix, then put the pot in a well-lit, warm spot.
  3. Within weeks, the cuttings will grow roots. Each new plant can then be potted up separately to grow on for a year before being planted into the garden.

Pruning your photinia

Photinias tolerate quite hard pruning, although this may leave your shrubs looking a little worse for wear for several months!

  • Hedges or specimen trees that have been allowed to grow unrestrained and that are now “out of control” and out of shape can be severely dealt with by cutting them down almost to ground level, or at least to within 15cm or so of the soil.
  • The stumps of the main stems or trunks will respond by sending out multitudes of new shoots in order to survive. Within two or three months you will be confronted with a dense mass of coloured leaves that completely camouflage the devastation you caused.
  • This is not the ideal way to prune photinias, however. They will behave in a far more orderly manner when they are kept trimmed on a regular basis from an early age. Both height and spread can be maintained in proportion by simply running a cordless electric hedge trimmer over the sides and top every five or six weeks from spring to autumn. You will be rewarded each time with a new flush of brightly coloured young shoots.

Diseases and pests affecting photinia

Photinia is not greatly troubled by pests or diseases when it is vigorous and well maintained. However, it can be susceptible to some of the same diseases as other members of the rose family, including powdery mildew and fungal leaf spot.

A general-purpose garden fungicide can be applied if necessary. Good drainage and reasonable air circulation will assist in disease prevention, but if you do see just a few leaves with fungal spots on them, cut them off and put them into the household rubbish.

As far as insect pests go, scale and mites are the most likely ones. A horticultural or pest oil spray will eradicate them.

If you like this then try

Pittosporum: evergreen tree or shrub, often with variegated foliage; often alternately planted with photinia for hedging.

Bottlebrush: dry-tolerant, low-maintenance shrub perfect for screening and attracting birds.

Lillypilly: native alternative to photinia, often used for hedges; new growth red to bronze; many varieties and heights.

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