Photinia (Photinia x Fraseri): Types, How To Grow And Plant Care

Photinia shrubs hail from the warm temperate areas of Asia, including Japan and Thailand, but they are cultivated all over the world thanks to their beautiful white flowers and striking red fruits.

It makes them an attractive option for any garden, but they aren’t the easiest shrubs to grow.

Here’s what you need to know about growing photinia shrubs.

At A Glance: What You Should Know About Photinia

Photinia plants are part of the rose plant family and are evergreen shrubs that introduce seas of color into any garden. 

One of the most popular types is Photinia x fraseri, also known as the red tip photinia, Christmas berry, or the Fraser photinia. 

This plant can reach 16 feet tall and wide in the right conditions, and also happens to be hardy to frost and freezing temperatures, but these conditions will kill off new growth.

This is the resulting cross of Photinia glabra and Photinia serratifolia. The latter is the Japanese photinia, also found in China, Myanmar, and Thailand. 

Photinia serratifolia, also known as the Chinese photinia or Taiwanese photinia, can reach heights of about 20 feet, sometimes as high as 39 feet tall, and is the larger of the two. 

It grows naturally in the forests of China, Japan, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. 

Photinia x fraseri can reach a maximum height of 15 feet tall, spreading to about 8 feet wide in the right conditions.

One of the best features of this shrub is its leaves. The new growth emerges as a bright red, maturing to glossy emerald green. You will get to enjoy this vibrant red for a while too, as new leaves can take between two and four weeks to mature.

This plant shows off in spring and summer, producing a dramatic display of ivory flowers. However, it is unfortunate that they give off an unpleasant smell, so they are better admired from afar!

Some gardeners even trim the shrub to stop it from flowering because of the smell, so keep that in mind. The fragrance of the flowers can be a dealbreaker for many, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use this shrub in other ways. 

Some people use it for road islands and parking lots, where it can put on a great display without offending anyone’s sense of smell. 

The flowers are soon followed by small fruits that emerge in white, turn red, and eventually mature to a striking black. They provide plenty of food for birds in fall, and may even stretch into winter, too.

Species And Cultivars You Should Consider

You might be tempted to go for the Japanese photinia, which tends to get to a more manageable height of 12 feet tall, rather than the Fraser photinia, which can reach 16 feet.

If you’d prefer something larger, the Chinese photinia might be for you, reaching up to 30 feet tall. It also helps that this species can withstand colder conditions.

In terms of the Fraser photinia, there are many award-winning cultivars to choose from.

Photinia x fraseri ‘Pink Marble’

Also known as ‘Cassini’, this particular cultivar features rose-pink new leaves instead of red, and when they mature, the foliage also produces ivory variegation, making for a stunning display.

Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ 

Probably the most common cultivar out there is ‘Red Robin’, producing scarlet new leaves which contrast well against the bright green mature foliage. 

Photinia x fraseri ‘Little Red Robin’

If the heights a photinia can reach puts you off, or you simply don’t have the room, consider a dwarf cultivar like ‘Little Red Robin’, which will only spread to about 3 feet tall.

This is perfect for containers in small gardens where space is limited, and you could even prune this plant to make it into a standard tree, too.

How To Grow Photinia

It’s worth noting that fraser photinias are hybrids, so if you attempt to grow them from seed, the resulting plants (if you manage it) will not look and act how they should, and this is known as not being true to type.

So, propagation through cuttings is the best method. When you take a cutting and rear it as a new plant, you have essentially created a copy of the original plant, so you know what to expect with it, and what it will look like.

Make sure to take cuttings in the last few weeks of summer or the first weeks of fall. Take cuttings from mature stems, at about 20cm long, removing all but the top set of leaves.

You can use rooting hormone if you like, otherwise, put the cuttings into moist loamy soil, and put them somewhere cool and bright. 

You should see new growth appear within four weeks or so, which means the cuttings have developed into new plants.

Gradually transition them outside during the spring, when most or all the risk of frost has passed.

How To Make Sure Photinia Shrubs Thrive In Your Garden

Getting the growing conditions right is the key to getting any plant to thrive, but it is especially important with photinia shrubs, as they can fall prey to disease.

Photinia shrubs will thrive in USDA zones 7 to 9 and are capable of growing two feet per year.

These plants need well-draining soil with a neutral or acidic pH, with plenty of space to keep air circulating around the plant. 

While they will tolerate some dry spells without any problem, make sure you don’t leave a photinia sitting in boggy soil, as this will rot the roots.

You can grow photinia shrubs in full sunlight, or partial shade if you prefer, but shade can create diseases such as leaf spot if there is too much moisture.

Pruning Red Tip Shrubs

As they grow quickly, it’s important to prune photinia shrubs, but less tends to be more. 

Give them a good trim in spring or summer to encourage tighter, neater growth, and avoid pruning during fall or winter, as this leaves the plant vulnerable to frost. 

You need to let the new growth mature so that it doesn’t get damaged by cold temperatures.

If you don’t want the flowers to bloom, you can cut these off too, and this will encourage the plant to grow new leaves in their stunning colors.

Landscaping With Photinia Shrubs

There are a lot of different ways you can use photinia shrubs in the garden, but it helps to keep the plant at a distance if you plan on growing the flowers, or trimming them off if you want the plant somewhere in a high-traffic area. 

Some people grow them as screens, small trees, or border plants. They are great options for anywhere in your garden which is a sun trap, as the combination of high heat and sunlight prevents many diseases from forming.

You can even grow this plant in a container if you select a dwarf variety. 

Other Things To Consider When Growing Photinia

Eventual Size

Photinia plants can get large, so if you are short on space, it’s worth growing a dwarf cultivar, and this will cut down on the amount of pruning you will need to do.

A Note On Toxicity

Photinia shrubs have some toxic properties, and should not be planted anywhere that horses or cattle frequent.

They are considered poisonous if ingested by people too, so you may want to choose a different plant if this is a concern.

Rate Of Growth

If you grow them in their ideal conditions, photinia shrubs can grow 3 feet per year.

Sunlight Needs

If the photinia doesn’t get enough sunlight, this can cause disease to take hold of the plant. Powdery mildew and fire blight can cause a lot of problems, so keep an eye out for these.

Powdery mildew occurs when there is too much moisture and not enough air circulation around the plant. On a photinia, you can recognize it on the leaves, where purple blotches will start to appear.

Fireblight is more common in other photinia species such as Photinia villosa and Photinia davidiana, which causes new growth to shrivel and die off. 

As you might imagine from the name, it’s easy to spot, making the plant look as though it’s had fire damage with browning leaves and stems. 

Diseases are particularly common in humid areas, so you may want to avoid this plant if you have a shady and humid garden.

Final Thoughts

Photinia shrubs are beautiful plants, but you might want to consider the potential drawbacks before you plant one. 

They need a lot of sunlight and drier conditions to stop diseases from taking hold, and combining that with the unpleasant fragrance of the flowers, makes them unsuitable for some gardens.

Not everyone wants to prune flowers as they appear, but photinia blooms can be a dealbreaker for many, in which case it’s worth choosing a different flowering plant, such as rhododendrons or  magnolias. These plants will put on fabulous displays without the smell!

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