Photinia is a popular evergreen shrub with glossy green leaves, white flowers in flattened flowerheads and young red shoots. The best known of the photinias is Photinia × fraseri ‘Red Robin’ which is often planted as a specimen shrub or as a fast-growing, dense, evergreen hedge.
Photinia grows best in fertile, moist, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade in a sheltered position. The young shoots can become scorched by cold or drying winds and late frosts if grown in an exposed position.
Photinia is tolerant of most soils, even clay as long as it has been improved by incorporating well-rotted compost or manure. Most species will suit either acid or alkaline conditions, but P. beauverdiana and P. villosa are not happy in a chalky soil, needing neutral to acid soil conditions.
Pruning and training
Photinias require minimal pruning, but will benefit from the occasional trim in spring and summer to keep the shape of the plant under control. Avoid trimming after mid-August, since any new growth would be vulnerable to autumn frosts.
Follow the advice in the pruning evergreen shrubs profile, but also note the following:
- Photinia × fraseri ‘Red Robin’ can grow up to 30cm (1ft) a year, so keep it under control and encourage new bright young leaves by shortening stems up to 15cm (6in), cutting just above an outward-facing bud
- If ‘Red Robin’ is grown as a hedge, remove the tips of young shoots to encourage the bright red leafy re-growth. They can be trimmed up to three times a year
- The deciduous P. villosa should be pruned in winter when dormant
- P. davidiana ‘Palette’ is a slow-growing evergreen with variegated leaves that needs little pruning
- If any of these photinias become overgrown, it is possible to renovate by cutting back hard to a low framework and thinning out congested shoots as they grow back. Response to renovation pruning is usually good.
The best method for propagating photinia cultivars, such as those of P. × fraseri including ‘Canivily’ AGM and ‘Red Robin’, or P. 'Redstart' is by softwood cuttings in early summer or semi-ripe cuttings in summer and autumn.
You can also grow species, such as P. villosa and P. davidiana, from seed, sowing in spring after stratification. Chilling may improve germination.
Below are a few popular photinias. For lists of other large or very large evegreen shrubs browse the RHS Plant Selector.
- Photinia × fraseri ‘Red Robin’ AGM: Popular compact evergreen shrub or small tree with glossy dark-green leaves, the young growth a bright brilliant red. Small white flowers in flattened flowerheads in mid and late spring. Height to 5m (15ft)
- P. × fraseri 'Little Red Robin': Recently introduced dwarf cultivar similar in colour to the popular 'Red Robin' with glossy dark green leaves bright-red when young. Small white flowers in flattened flowerheads, mid-late spring. Height & spread 60-90cm (2-3ft)
- P. × fraseri Cracklin' Red='Parred': Recent selection with red flushed young new growth and a free branching habit. Well suited to smaller gardens and for hedges. Height 2m (6ft)
- P. davidiana 'Palette': Slow growing, shrubby evergreen or semi-evergreen with glossy dark green leaves boldly splashed pink & creamy-white then flushed red in autumn. White flowers in flattened flowerheads, early to midsummer. Height to 3m (9ft)
- P. glabra 'Rubens': Dense rounded evergreen shrub with brilliant-red young leaves maturing to dark-green. White flowers in flattened flowerheads in early summer. Height 3m (10ft)
- P. glabra 'Parfait': Rounded evergreen shrub with bronze young leaves margined pink then green flecked grey-green with a narrow creamy margin and white, early summer flowers in flattened flowerheads. Height 2-3m (6-9ft)
- P. villosa: Deciduous shrubby tree with dark green leaves, bronze when young, turning orange and red in autumn. Small white flowers in flattened flowerheads, late spring. Height and spread 5m (15ft)
RHS Plant Finder
Photinia x fraseri 'Red Robin'
Photinias are usually trouble-free, but can suffer from photinia leaf spot. This is considered to be a physiological problem (i.e. not caused by any pest or disease). The purple-brown spotting on the foliage is typical of a plant under stress. Recently planted semi-mature specimens are particularly prone, though many photinias are not fully hardy in the UK and any can suffer after cold, wet winters.
To avoid this type of damage plant in a sheltered spot preferably against a wall or fence. Cold winds and/or frosty conditions can also damage foliage, again causing leaf spotting if adverse conditions are prolonged.
Feeding with a general-purpose fertiliser such as Vitax Q4 or Growmore in spring or early summer should encourage healthy re-growth. Photinias respond well to pruning so thinning out some of the top growth on badly affected plants will also encourage younger, more vigorous growth later in the season. If the ground is heavy incorporate organic matter to aid with drainage.
Purple blotching can also sometimes be a symptom of powdery mildew on photinia.
Fireblight is more serious, but is unlikely to affect P. × fraseri cultivars such as 'Red Robin'. Occasionally, P. villosa and P. davidiana are affected.
Common Name Christmas berry
Botanical Name Photinia
Group Evergreen shrub
Flowering time April to May or June
Planting Time Autumn to spring
Height and spread mostly up to 5m (15ft) tall, 5m (15ft) spread
Aspect Sun or partial shade
Hardiness H5 (hardy - cold winter) - H4 (hardy - average winter)