Growing Photinia Red Robin – the beginner’s guide

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Growing Photinia Red Robin – the beginner’s guide

Growing Photinia Red Robin – the beginner’s guide

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The Photinia x Fraseri, otherwise known as Red Robin, is a popular hybrid of the Photinias.  This popular Evergreen has beautiful red leaves which is where it gets its name. This shrub, and all the types of photinias, is very widely grown and has received the Award of Garden Merit from the RHS.

HardynessWill grow in all parts of the UK and is very hardy, however, does not like cold winds which can damage new foliage in spring.
Soil TypePrefers moist well-drained soil but will grow well in nearly all soil types including clay if you dig some peat and compost in before planting
Sun Will grow well in full sun or partial sun
Garden sizeCan be grown in any size garden and even in pots, can grow very big if left unpruned (5m – 15ft) but can handle being pruned regularly to keep it at 3-4ft if needed.
MaintenanceVery easy to care for with very little maintenance requires, only pruning if needed but can be left to grow into a large shrub.
ProblemsThe only common problem is black spots on the leaves, however, this is not thought to be caused by disease or fungus and more stress-related.

Growing conditions for the photinia include a large garden if possible if you want to let it grow into a large shrub but its handles pruning well and can be just as easily kept within a certain size.

Grows to 4-5 meters but can just as easily be kept 4ft by pruning

photinia red robin new red growth

This is an evergreen shrub and if you don’t properly prune it, will reach a height of 4-5 meters and a width of 4-5 meters. This is a fast-growing shrub that will easily give you 30cm of growth every year once it gets established which is why its a good choice for hedging. Pruning is somewhat of a necessary evil in so far as the pruning helps to keep it in check but at the same time, the shrub responds very well to the active pruning and will grow faster and healthier as a result and encourage more of that lovely fresh red shoots it’s renowned for.

Very hardy but unfavourable condition can cause black spots on leaves

This is a very strong shrub that can be grown in almost every area of the UK, in fact, it can survive places where the temperature drops to -12 degrees Celsius but its is known to suffer from stress which causes black spots of the leaves, this can be related to cold winds in exposed areas so it may be better planted in a more sheltered position.

Grown for the bright red leaves but will produce clusters of white flowers if not pruned

Photinia red robin flowers
Photinia red robin flowers

There are some flowers but it is not recommended that you allow the plant to produce flowers because they have a very unpleasant scent.  Incidentally, you will know if you forgot to prune in a timely fashion because come June you will get clusters of tiny white flowers and you may smell the scent that some find unpleasant. What it does give you instead of flowers are beautiful bright red leaves that start to turn green as they mature which is why most people choose to have photinias.

 

Grows in nearly all soil types including clay

The photinias will survive in all soils except for heavy waterlogged or heavy clay soils. If you do have clay soil then adding some peat and compost can usually make it good enough for photinos to grow so it’s well worth trying.

The shrubs prefer full sunlight but they can thrive in areas with partial shade as long as they get many hours of sun. If at all possible avoid any fully shaded areas as they will not thrive to there full potential.

Once your photinia is established you will rarely have to water it which helps keep your water costs down and means its fairly low maintenance. In fact, it will tolerate moderate drought which makes it perfect for summertime.

Grow a hedge of Photina red robins, looking absolutely stunning

Being a versatile shrub you can grow it as a hedge, you can grow it against a fence and allow it to reach maximum heights which means its also perfect for forming a large screen, or you can grow it as a specimen plant, and even allow it to do well in containers but it does then need water regularly. If you need it to function as a barrier hedge, pick a different plant as this one has no thorns and nefarious animals or individuals can simply part it and walk through. Tangentially it has not been listed as poisonous to dogs however if you have cows or horses on your land which graze it could cause them some minor problems if they eat it so this may be worth considering.

How to plant photinias

When you are ready to plant photinias, choose an area that has full sun to partial shade. Your photinia will need proper air circulation so, if you have it set up against the wall or a fence, it will do just fine as long as you don’t place it right against the wall or fence as this area tends to be dry.

If you have heavy soil and it doesn’t drain well, add compost to lighten the load. As long as the ground is not frozen you can plant photinias all year long so you don’t have to wait. You can water it when the conditions get dry but you don’t have to all over winter if your soil is already extremely wet but it’s worth noting that it can only take water from the root ball until it gets established and puts some roots out. The ideal time to plant is between the middle of March and the beginning of April or the beginning of October while the ground is still warm so it should put some root out ready for winter.

 

At the onset dig a hole that is twice the size of your root ball and sprinkling a handful of compost if you can. Place your photinia in the hole, and fill it with soil until it reaches the same depth as the root ball was in the pot. At that point fill in around the root ball and firmly packed down the soil in a gentle fashion. Water it well to make sure that the roots get settled.

If you are growing your photinias as a hedge, plant them 60-90 cm apart in order to achieve proper density. If you are growing them against a wall the plants need to be at least 60 cm from the wall or the fence in question. If you plant them any closer to one another they will suffer from a lack of moisture and air circulation problems and if pruned they will quickly establish and fill out.

Growing photinia’s in containers

You can put a single Red Robin in a large container so long as it has a diameter at least 45cm, it really depends on the site of the red robin you buy, large is better as it gives them plenty of room to grow.

Fill the container with a shrub or long term compost mix. Plant it and feed it regularly between the middle of March in the middle of August. When it is in a container it will require regular watering. Once you see the top 3cm is dry, add water. You can prune in the same way you would prune a regular plant in order to maintain the proper shape and size for the container in which it is grown.

How to care for photinia

Once your photinia has established itself it will take care of itself quite well. It is for this reason that Photinias are very easy maintenance plant. In fact they will grow happily without you having to add additional food to the soil or regularly water. You may have to prune once or twice annually to maintain the shape and size of your plants.

If you have a younger plant, which is not yet 2 years old, make sure to water it should conditions become dry. Give it some Bone meal in the spring and the Autumn to help the roots establish themselves and remove any weeds or grass from around the base of the plant.

 

Be advised that Red Robins can sometimes drop their leaves throughout the year more than most shrubs, this, however, is fairly normal and not something to too worry about unless you notice other signs of stress such as spotted leaves or wilting.

How to prune photinia

Pruning is not essential except for controlling the size and shape

The frequency with which you prune is based on the size and shape you prefer. If you don’t prune your Red Robin it will grow very happily and it will become a bush approximately 5 meters high and wide in as little as 8 to 10 years given the right growing conditions, fertile soil, plenty of sun and more importantly, no pruning.

Only prune until the July to protect growth from early frosts

If you want a smaller shrub, maybe as a specimen, you can prune anytime between March and the middle of July. Ideally, you want to try and avoid pruning after the end of July because the younger shoots that are produced after pruning are very soft, and they stand to be damaged if you have an early frost. It won’t kill the plant but it will look unsightly and is best avoided if possible.

Younger plants are better left for a few years before pruning unless you have a plant that has a single or very few stems, if this is the case, prune back hard when the risk of frost has gone to encourage the plant to bush and form a much better well-branched plant.

You can cut back your photinia severely using a good pair of loppers and it will almost always come back. If your plant has gotten out of control you can prune it back to just 2ft in May when the plant is strongest and it will come back stronger than ever.

Common photinia problems

Red robins are very healthy and they are rarely attacked by any pests however, their weakness is leaf spot and it is extremely common and does look a little unsightly but it will not kills the plant.

Leaf Spot

If you look at your leaves and you see dark black or red spots it is indicative of leaf spot. These leaves will eventually fall off the plant and sometimes plants can start to look bare. It’s actually thought that this is typically caused by damp and humid conditions rather than by disease itself so the best way to resolve this problem is by planting it in a more favourable location, perhaps in a more sheltered area if its currently in an exposed area which is open to cold winds.

 

If you noticed it early and your plant is only partially you can remove the leaves that are damaged and burn them. Then you can prune back hard in the middle of May giving your plant ample time to bounce back and recover with summer on its way.

Honey fungus

Honey fungus is a fungal disease that will spread underground from another tree or plant to the root system of your Red Robin, we have discussed this previously as the problem with lilacs.

If you see an unhealthy plant that has white fungus appearing around the ground level and sometimes under the bark, you can carefully dig to the roots to verify as well as the fungus is usually present on the roots. If your photinia is the only plant you see with any signs of distress, chances are it’s not honey fungus as this would impact other plants nearby.

If however, you have determined that it is honey fungus the only sensible option will have to dig up your photinia and burn it alongside any other plants that are impacted as there is no current chemical treatment for this.

How to take photinia cutting

The process below is the same whether you take softwood cutting in early summer of semi-hardwood cutting in summer or autumn.

  1. It is very easy to propagate Red Robins and the chances of success are high.
  2. Start by taking a cutting at the end of July through the beginning of September.
  3. It is recommended that you take a cutting which is longer than you need so that you can make the final cut when you are ready to plant it.
  4. Choose a stem that is approximately 2mm thick and take a cutting right below the leaf node, to approximately 8cm in length. This should be semi-ripe growth, neither too soft nor too hard.
  5. Remove any lower leaves from the cutting as you do with all cutting.
  6. Get small pots approximately 8cm wide end evenly spaced three cuttings about 4cm deep.
  7. Place some compost on top and gently pack it down. Put the pot in a shallow tray of water for at least half an hour so that it absorbs enough moisture at the root system.
  8. Cover the container with cling-wrap or a small plastic bag but make sure that the leaves are not touching the top.
  9. Place the pot in a shaded and cool area or in a cold frame if your lucky enough to have one.

It should take about two to three weeks for you to see the cutting manifest. At that point, you need to remove the plastic bag and allow it to grow slightly larger, unhindered by any plastic. You can put it in its final position in your garden in April or May after any frost danger has passed and when it has a root system. It may be worth leaving it in the pot until next spring to increase the chances of it translating ok.

 

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