Pruning red tip photinia

Growing Red Tip Photinia Plants

The red tip photinia (Photinia x fraseri) is a popular shrub used as a fence row in the eastern half of North America. The oval leaves of photinia plants start out red but turn into the dark ever green after a couple weeks to a month. During the spring, the photinia also has small white flowers that produce red fruits, that often last into the winter.

Care of Red Tip Photinia

It is important to provide the red tip photinia with a few basics to maintain a healthy plant and avoid photinia disease. Be sure to provide a well-drained soil so that it isn’t too wet. Photinia plants also prefer full sun, but it can tolerate partial shade. It is also important to make sure it doesn’t grow to dense. Pruning photinia plants is crucial to the health of the plant. If there isn’t enough room for air to move around the leaves, it can develop photinia disease.

Diseases That Affect Photinia

A common photinia disease that affects red tip photinia is caused by a fungus attacking the leaves of the plant. The symptoms are red, purple or maroon circles on the leaves. It is important to avoid getting the leaves wet if there are sign of disease because it helps spread the mold to healthy leaves. The leaves will fall off, eventually leading to the death of the red tip photinia. It is important to either completely remove dead leaves or cover them with mulch to prevent the fungus from affecting the rest of the photinia plants.

Propogating Red Tip Photinia

You can promote a new healthy plant by pruning photinia and making cuttings from another healthy plant. There are three basic ways to create a new photinia plant, using pieces that are three segments, or nodes, long:

  • Put cuttings into a mix of perlite and vermiculte in a ziplock bag, place in sunlight.
  • Put cuttings directly into potting soil, let them root under light
  • Put cuttings in water, place on a window sill with plenty of light.

When you have new root growth, plant the new plants from the photinia pruning in pots till the roots are stronger. Then you are able to plant a new red tip photinia in an area where it has plenty of room and light to grow strong and healthy.

Hard pruning photinia

Photinia responds well to hard pruning (“rejuvenation pruning”), but give it some time to recuperate between hard prunings. Discolored leaves are usually not fungal disease.
Like many shrubs, over-tall or leggy Photinias respond well to being cut down all within 8 or 12 inches of the ground, which is called “rejuvenation pruning” because it gives you a chance to completely start over with shaping the plant (“respond well” in this context means they usually survive and push up a lot of new growth). However, hard pruning does require the plant to use up a lot of stored energy to put out replacement growth, so since you recently cut the plants down from 15′ to 6′, we would suggest giving them a year to recover and store up energy before you do more hard pruning. Meanwhile, DO keep an eye on leggy new growth: cut out congested growth at the base (lots of space for air movement will substantially reduce fungal disease problems), and you can reduce long new shoots by half their length which will help appearance.
Apart from the severe pruning we’re discussing, many people shear back their plants about 6″ after the spring growth matures in order to prompt a second flush of that new-leaf red color.
As always, consider replacing oversized plants with smaller varieties or cultivars that won’t require (as much) pruning: “Red Robin” is about half the height of the older “Birmingham”, has good red color and good resistance to leaf spot–but still gets easily 12′ or taller in the Northwest; “Indian Princess” has orange-red new leaves and is shorter. “Cracklin Red” is about 6′; “Little Red Robin” gets about 3′.
Regarding fungal disesases: There is a Photinia leaf spot fungus (Entomosporium mespili) which causes reddish-purple blotches with white/tan round dots in the center of the blotches, and can cause severe defoliation in the spring. It is best controlled on mature plants by pruning for air flow and keeping the fallen leaves raked up. But much more common is something called “physiological leaf spot,” which is not a disease, but is apparently a natural response of Photinias to environmental stresses. Fungal sprays will not help; improved general plant care may help, but this is a very common condition and not susceptible to chemicals.

Landscape ShrubsFraser Photinia; Redtip Photinia(Photinia x fraseri)

Redtip photinia (Photinia x fraseri) would be easily recognized by everyone as one of the most common broadleaf evergreen hedge or screen plants used in Arkansas. The justification for using this plant is easily recognized when you consider the lovely fire-red new growth, the aggressive upright oval growth habit, and absence of foul-smelling flowers typical of the species.

In other parts of the country this is a great plant, but not in Arkansas. For some reason the combination of temperatures and humidity in Arkansas make this plant incredibly susceptible to an aggressive fungal leaf spot (Entomosporium). The Cooperative Extension Service has an excellent fact sheet on this disease (). In many other parts of the country where this plant grows, you will not see leaf spot as a threat. Concerted foliar sprays in early spring can minimize this problem, but that approach is really not practical. The best solution is to consider alternatives to this commonly available broadleaf evergreen plant.

You don’t have to look far to find some suitable alternatives. Two other species of Photinia (P. serrulata and P. glabra) are noticeably less susceptible to leaf spot. However, there are some tradeoffs. Chinese photinia (P. serrulata), while nearly free of leaf spot, differs from redtip in that it is a much larger plant (20’ x 20’), more rounded in habit, does not have the attractive fire red foliage, and is covered with noticeably odiferous flowers in late March/early April. The smelly flowers are only an issue for two weeks out of a year, but this is likely why gardeners have shied away from this plant. Interestingly enough, Chinese photinia is the seed parent for the redtip photinia hybrid. Chinese photinia tend to be located on older landscapes that pre-date the introduction of redtip. One positive landscape attribute is the dramatic red fruits that follow the flowers. If you are in doubt about whether you are looking at a Chinese photinia or not, check the edge of the leaf. The leaf margin is distinctly serrated, like teeth on a saw blade. Chinese photinia will be much harder to find at a garden center.

The Japanese photinia (P. glabra) is a closer approximation of redtip. The overall plant size (14’ x 14’) is between the Chinese and redtip, the emerging foliage color is almost as bright as redtip, and there may be a smidge fewer flowers on the Japanese compared to the Chinese photinia. Regrettably, susceptibility to leaf spot on Japanese photinia is somewhere between Chinese and redtip. Japanese photinia flowers about two weeks later (mid-April) than the Chinese.

Cultural requirements for either photinia are similar. These plants are pretty darn tough and adaptable to most soils and exposures. Photinia plants will be more open (less dense) and more susceptible to leaf spot fungus when grown in dense shade, however.

  • Common Name: Chinese and Japanese photinia
  • Varieties to look for: none
  • Flower Color: white/cream
  • Blooming period: late March to mid-April
  • Perennial or annual: woody perennial
  • Size: 15’ tall by 15’ wide
  • Exposure: full to partial sun
  • Soil: adaptable
  • Watering: tolerates dry
  • When to prune: anytime
  • When to fertilize: spring or fall
  • Suggested use: hedge or screen

~Laura

This post and photos may contain Amazon or other affiliate links. If you purchase something through any link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Any supplies used may be given to me free of charge, however, all projects and opinions are my own.

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Red Tip Photinia is one of my favorite evergreens! It provides year-round red and green color in your landscape with a bonus of pretty Spring blossoms. Here’s a look at our own Red Tip Photinias over the past few years . . .

My love affair with trees and shrubs began when we left city living and moved to a home with a yard. One of the first books I purchased was Complete Trees Shrubs and Hedges by Jacqueline Hériteau (affiliate). Here’s my well-loved edition below — which has since been updated and republished — along with one of the pictures of an evergreen plant that was new to me at the time: Red Tip Photinia.

I was fascinated by the fact that Red Tip Photinia is a broad-leaved evergreen and has flowers. I also liked the idea of year-round color in both red and green on one plant. (Trust me, at Christmastime these are instant outdoor holiday decorations for your property!)

I had to have one. So we purchased a small shrub in the Spring of 2009 to put in the front corner of one of our foundation beds. I planned to grow it as a tree.

Rookie mistake! Definitely not the right spot for this fast-growing evergreen.

By the following April (2010), our Red Tip Photinia was growing like crazy! Below left is what the tree looked like on April 2, 2010. Below right is just five days later, April 7, 2010.

It was beautiful, but I had to prune and trim that thing almost every two weeks throughout the Summer.

What was a pretty tree was fast becoming a nightmare to contain! We dug it up and attempted to transplant it to our backyard, but the tree was not happy with being transplanted and didn’t make it. (Most likely because we decided on a whim one day to transplant it in the middle of a heatwave. Not too helpful for the plant’s chance at survival!)

A couple of years later, my husband and I began not liking the “messy-ness” of the tall ornamental grasses next to our patio in the backyard, so we removed them. (See image below taken in September 2012.)

But the following Spring (see photo above), we didn’t like the look of the empty brown sticks of the Goldenrod either. We absolutely loved our Fireworks Goldenrod, but realized we wanted year-round color by the patio.

So…we bought two Red Tip Photinias and decided to try our luck. (April 2013)

I included the picture above so you can see the size when purchased at a nursery. Last year I saw them at some of the major home improvement store garden centers in a slightly smaller size.

By the end of September 2013, our Red Tip Photinia plants were looking happy in their new home.

Of course as Mother Nature likes to do, she gave us a very harsh Winter, including a Spring storm in mid-March.

I didn’t think the Red Tip Photinia would survive, looking so brown.

Sure enough, the green color did return, although there definitely was some damage. Here’s two close-up pictures below showing the damaged leaves and the start of the red new growth. (April 2014)

The plants completely rebounded over the Summer months!

Below is the progress of our Red Tip Photinia shrubs on their way to becoming trees. Left to right: April 24th, June 1st, and July 11th, 2014.

Things to know about Red Tip Photinia

  • they grow rapidly, so give them lots of room
  • can grow 12 feet to 18 feet tall; 8 feet wide
  • easily adapts to pruning
  • can be grown as a shrub, hedge or tree
  • white flowers in the Spring on established plants
  • produces tiny fruit (although I haven’t seen any yet)
  • evergreen in USDA zones 7 – 9
  • happiest in full sun or partial sun
  • needs decent amount of water to help it get established
  • also called Fraser Photinia, Fraser’s Photinia, Red Tipped Photinia, Japanese Photinia

The new growth begins as red tips . . .

And there’s lots of pretty red color in the Spring . . .

Of course, I can’t resist sharing a close-up of the pollen we got last year…

And the pollen wasn’t even as bad as it can get. We call it The Great Pollen Drop every year. Everything gets covered in our town. Yuck!

Eventually, the red color on Red Tip Photinias begins to turn green . . .

We didn’t have any flowers on our Red Tip Photinia for the first few years, although we loved how our shrubs were thriving into tree size.

Then last May (2016) we had some blooms! Whoo hoo!

Only on the side of the trees that are facing the sun, and primarily on one of the two trees, but ooooooh we were happy!

The blossoms remind me of Queen Anne’s Lace . . .

I’ve since learned that Red Tip Photinia will bloom in the Spring if you don’t prune it earlier that same season. This probably explains why we just had flowers in a few spots, not all over, last Spring. I’ll refrain from pruning this time around, and let you know what happens this year.

Fingers crossed that A) we get more blooms; and B) I can actually refrain from pruning! Hah!

Another bonus? The trees now give us a living privacy screen! And shade from the sun!

Last Spring we planted a third one – to fill in the remaining “hole” now that we knew these plants were happy in this spot.

Here’s our Red Tip Photinia in May 2016 — two small trees and a newly planted shrub . . .

You can see our wall of Dappled Willow across the yard in the background. We grew all of that from one plant! (And you can too — just read my Dappled Willow posts here and here.)

Here’s how our Red Tip Photinia looked a few months later in August 2016 . . .

Mostly a lush green, with hints of red here and there, plus red stems.

When you prune Red Tip Photinia, you’ll get the new growth coming back in with red tips and some people like to prune on purpose for that look.

I’m happy just letting them be, only occasionally pruning here and there, making sure they behave next to our pergola and patio.

Remember: Red Tip Photinia can be a shrub or it can be a tree. Your choice!

I hope you see why I love this evergreen.

Happy gardening!

How to Trim a Red Tip Photinia

photinia flower image by Alison Bowden from Fotolia.com

The red tip photinia shrub grows abundantly in warm regions (USDA zones 8 and 9) where gardeners plant them as hedgerows. An unfortunate result of these close planting practices is a lack of adequate air circulation among the individual shrubs, which often contributes to a fungal infection that leads to loss of the plants. With careful spacing and pruning, you can keep red tip photinia shrubs healthy and thriving in your home landscape. By pruning photinia shrubs during dormancy, you can prevent disease.

Spread the tarp beneath the shrub before you begin pruning to catch the stems and leaves you remove.

Examine the interior of the shrub to find any stems and branches that appear unhealthy or dying. If you find any, remove these stems back to the base of the shrub with the pruning shears.

Open up the interior of the shrub by removing the crossing and rubbing stems. Cut these stems off with the pruning shears where they connect with the next largest stem.

Shape the photinia shrubs by clipping off the growth around the perimeter of the shrubs with the pruning shears. Because red tip photinia shrubs grow abundantly during the growing season, they will easily grow into very large shrubs if you allow it. Cut back the stems to a leaf node to control the growth and keep the shrub the size you desire.

Pull up the tarp and discard the removed stems, branches and leaves. This is especially important around a photinia shrub because this plant material on the ground can lead to fungal infections.

Pruning Photinia

Photinia rejuvenation is pretty easy and rarely results in the plant dying. As you’ve noted, Photinia are pretty vigorous plants.
. The easiest method of photinia rejuvenation is to cut back the entire shrub at one time. Photinia tolerates cutting back to about six inches above the ground. The problem with this type of pruning is that it leaves a gap and ugly stump in the landscape. You can try hiding it with tall annuals, but if it bothers you, there is another method that isn’t as extreme.
The second way to rejuvenate red tip photinia takes three or four years, but the shrub continues to fill its place in the landscape as it regrows. Each year, cut out one-half to one-third of the stems to about six inches above the ground. Begin with the oldest and largest stems and then cut the weak and misshapen ones. After three or four years, the shrub will be completely rejuvenated. You can continue this method of pruning after the shrub is completely rejuvenated to keep it looking fresh.
Regardless of the approach you choose, I’d suggest doing the pruning in late winter or very early spring.

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