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.
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.
Photinia is very robust and thrives in most soils, climates and situations.
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.
Photinias tolerate quite hard pruning, although this may leave your shrubs looking a little worse for wear for several months!
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.
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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