Red tip photinia (Photinia x fraseri) is a broadleaf evergreen shrub that gets its name from the striking red color of its young leaves, which change to a leathery dark green as they mature. This hybrid plant is a cross between Photinia glabra (Japanese photinia) and Photinia serratifolia (Chinese photinia). Also known as Fraser photinia, it is an excellent shrub for hedges and privacy screens, and can also be shaped into a small specimen tree. This plant has a fast growth rate and can gain 1 to 3 feet each year. It should be planted in the spring.
The shrub has white or cream flowers that nearly cover the foliage at the peak of its bloom. Unfortunately, the flowers have an unpleasant odor, so most gardeners prefer to prune the shrub's stems before they flower. If the flowers are left to bloom, they give way to small red pome fruit that can remain through winter and into the following spring.
There is some disagreement about the toxicity of red tip photinia. While this particular hybrid is not included on official lists of plants that are toxic to humans, pets, or grazing animals, other members of the Photinia genus are recognized as having berries that are mildly toxic to humans and pets, and more seriously toxic to grazing animals, such as horses. Thus, some sources caution about possible toxicity of any Photinia species, including the P. x fraseri hybrid.
|Common Name||Red tip photinia, Fraser photinia|
|Botanical Name||Photinia x fraseri|
|Mature Size||10–15 ft. tall and wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Loamy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic, neutral (6.0 to 7.5)|
|Hardiness Zones||7–9 (USDA)|
Red Tip Photinia Care
The key to successfully growing these shrubs is to provide them with a spot that has good air circulation and well-drained soil. Soggy conditions can promote diseases that can be deadly to the plant. If you are planting several shrubs to form a hedge, make sure to account for the plant’s width at full size. There must still be space for air to move through the leaves between each plant.
Pruning will be one of your main tasks to care for your red tip photinia. It’s important to prune at least annually to thin the growth and improve airflow throughout the plant. Plus, if you wish, you also can prune throughout the season to encourage new growth of the young red leaves. Besides pruning, plan to water when the soil gets dry and fertilize if your soil lacks nutrients.
Red tip photinia has a broad tolerance range for sunlight exposure. It can even tolerate full shade, though this will limit flowering. In hot climates, this shrub does best when it gets partial shade—especially protection from the hot afternoon sun. It is best planted in north- or east-facing locations. In cooler climates, it prefers full sun.
Red tip photinia prefers loamy, well-drained soil in a planting site that has good air movement. Heavy clay soils should be amended with 50 percent compost before planting.
Water the plant once a week at its base during dry periods, and avoid getting the leaves wet. It will do well with about 1 inch of water a week, rainfall and irrigation combined, especially in the first two years. Once established, red tip photinia has a good tolerance for short periods of drought, and it will thrive with an alternate-week watering schedule.
Temperature and Humidity
Red tip photinia does well in the climate conditions across USDA growing zones 7 to 9, provided it gets good airflow to prevent fungal disease. It does not do well in very wet, humid environments. It can survive in zone 6 when planted in a location that is sheltered from harsh winds yet has generally good air circulation around the shrub.
Red tip photinia normally does not require fertilizing unless your soil is very poor. When feeding is required (based on a soil test), use a slow-release organic fertilizer in the early spring as new growth begins.
Types of Red Tip Photinia
Some of the most popular varieties of red tip photinia include:
- Photinia x fraseri 'Red Robin': This is the most commonly planted cultivar. It grows 9 to 12 feet tall with a similar spread. It's a somewhat compact cultivar that is easy to tame for use in hedges.
- Photinia × fraseri 'Little Red Robin': This plant is similar to 'Red Robin' though much smaller, with a height and spread of only 2 to 3 feet.
- Photinia × fraseri 'Pink Marble': This is a newer cultivar, featuring rose pink young leaves with white variegated margins. It grows 7 to 14 feet tall and 6 to 10 feet wide.
Continual pruning of the shoot tips as the red foliage begins to fade will prompt further production of the attractive reddish leaves. This does preempt flower production. However, most gardeners don't mind this because the flowers have an unpleasant odor.
Thin your shrub each year in the winter by removing some stems all the way to the ground to improve air circulation. This will help to prevent fungal disease and ensure that light can hit all parts of the plant. If you wish to train this plant to grow as a tree, choose a central leader and prune away competing shoots. This will gradually transform the plant into a more tree-like shape.
Propagating Red Tip Photinia
Like many woody shrubs, red tip photinia can be propagated by taking stem cuttings to root and plant in pots. Here's how to do it:
- In the fall before frost arrives, cut some stem tips that include three growth notes.
- When you prune your hedge or shrub in winter, cut some stem tips at least three nodes (segments) long.
- Set these into a pot of moistened propagating mix, then put the pot in a well-lit, warm spot.
- Within weeks, the cuttings will grow roots. Each new plant should then be potted up separately to grow for a year before being planted into the garden.
How to Grow Red Tip Photinia From Seed
Red tip photinia is a hybrid plant that does not "come true" if its seeds are planted. Thus, propagation is always through stem cuttings.
For this plant to display to best effect, it must be protected against winter cold in the northern end of its hardiness range. Gardeners in zones 6 and 7 should thickly cover the root crown with a thick layer of dry mulch, such as leaves, straw, or brushwood. The individual shoots should be wrapped in burlap. These safeguards are not necessary in warmer zones.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Red tip photinia is susceptible to fungal diseases when conditions are wet and humid. Entomosporium maculatum fungus is a particular threat and is so severe that landscape use of the plant is gradually disappearing in the South. This disease appears as red spots across the leaf surface. If it is not controlled, it can overtake the plant and cause many of the leaves to drop, sometimes killing the plant. You can help affected plants recover by keeping the leaves dry and removing diseased foliage.
Insects that you might find on this shrub include caterpillars, European fruit-tip moth, mites, and scale.
How to Get Red Tip Photinia to Bloom
Because the attraction of this plant is its transformative red leaves, this plant normally gets a lot of pruning to keep the new leaves coming. This has the impact of reducing the flowers (which smell bad, anyway). However, should you want the plant to flower for the benefit of the fruits that follow, simply omit the normal pruning routine, and make sure the plant is getting enough sun. This plant also needs shelter to protect the flower buds. Many gardeners in zones 6 and 7 find that it helps to keep the shrub wrapped with burlap in the winter to ensure spring leaf and flower buds.
If you do choose to foster flowers on this shrub, the small red fruits that result will remain on the shrub into the winter, attracting birds that enjoy feeding on them.
Common Problems With Red Tip Photinia
In addition to the serious fungal problems described above, red tip photinia has some less severe issues.
Leaves Aren't Red
Two conditions can prevent this shrub from displaying its beautiful red leaves in the spring: not enough sun, or cold spring weather that nips the leaf buds. Red tip photinia requires both enough sun and a sheltered location in order to thrive.
Plants Smell Awful
The flowers on red tip photinia are notorious for their unpleasant odor. To prevent flowering, do rigorous spring pruning, which will stimulate growth of the beautiful leaves at the same time it removes the flower buds.
Shrub Is Too Sparse
Without regular pruning, a red tip photinia can grow quite tall and leggy at the expense of the dense foliage that most people desire. Hard renewal pruning, followed by annual shortening of all stems by a full one-third of their length, will restore a neglected shrub its best appearance.
How can I use this plant in the landscape?
With its beautiful foliage, red tip photinia is often used as a specimen shrub, given a highly visible location in the landscape. It also works well in sheltered but sunny borders and makes a good informal hedge with regular pruning.
How long does a red tip photinia live?
With occasional restoration pruning, this shrub will live almost indefinitely unless it falls prey to fungal disease.
My shrub has lost its foliage; can I save it?
A shrub that loses all its foliage is likely a victim of the leaf spot disease known as Entomosporium maculatum. Your shrub may be salvageable through intense and repeated treatment with fungicide, combined with severe pruning down to ground level.