Red-Tip Photinia (Photinia x fraseri)

Fraser Photinia, Fraser's Photinia, Red-Tip Photinia

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 dark evergreen after a couple of weeks to a month. During the spring, the photinia also has small, white flowers that produce red fruits, often lasting into the winter.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Photinia × fraseri, known as red tip photinia and Christmas berry, is a nothospecies in the rose family, Rosaceae. It is a hybrid between Photinia glabra and Photinia serratifolia.

It is a compact shrub with an erect habit that can grow into a medium-sized tree. Its evergreen, oval leaves are dark green but crimson red when young, especially in early spring. Its flowers are small, with five petals, united in large white inflorescences. They bloom at the end of spring. It can reach a height of 5 meters and a diameter of 5 meters. It is frost resistant and can withstand temperatures from -5° to -10°.

The shrub tolerates moderate shade and it grows in well drained soils. It should be sheltered from the cold and dry winds of winter. It can be propagated by semi-woody cuttings in summer.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

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. In cooler climate zones, it prefers full sun. It is best planted in north- or east-facing locations.

Temperature and Humidity

Red tip photinia does well in 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 sheltered from harsh winds yet has generally good air circulation around the shrub.

Watering

Once established, red tip photinia has a good tolerance for short periods of drought and will thrive with an alternate-week watering schedule. It will do well with about 1 inch of water a week, rainfall, and irrigation combined, especially in the first two years. Water the plant once a week at its base during dry periods, and avoid getting the leaves wet.

Soil

Red tip photinia prefers loamy, well-drained soil in a planting site with good air movement. Heavy clay soils should be amended with 50 percent compost before planting.

Fertilizing

Red tip photinia usually does not require fertilizing unless your soil is very poor. When feeding is needed (based on a soil test), use a slow-release organic fertilizer in the early spring as new growth begins.

Planting Instructions

Pruning

Thin your shrub each year in the winter by removing some stems to the ground to improve air circulation. This will ensure light can hit all parts of the plant.

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.

Propagation

Like many woody shrubs, red tip photinia can be propagated by taking semi-hardwood stem cuttings to root and plant in pots in mid to late summer. However, cuttings can be taken anytime before frost arrives. Here’s how to do it:

  • Cut a 3- to 4-inch stem that includes three growth nodes. Use a sharp knife instead of shears since shears pinch the stem, making it more challenging to take up water.
  • Remove the bottom leaves. The stem only needs two leaves at the top.
  • Plant the cut end down into a pot of moistened potting mix. Cover the pot loosely with a clear plastic bag, giving it a mock greenhouse environment to encourage rooting.
  • Place the pot in a well-lit, warm spot indoors.
  • Within weeks, the cuttings will grow roots.
  • Plant it outdoors in the spring, gradually acclimating it to outside weather conditions over a few weeks and after the threat of frost has passed.

Pests and Diseases

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 so severe that the plant’s landscape use is gradually disappearing in the South.4 This disease appears as red spots across the leaf surface. If it is not controlled, it can overtake the plant and cause many leaves to drop, sometimes killing the plant.

You can help affected plants recover by keeping the leaves dry and removing diseased foliage. Adding a layer of mulch also benefits the plant. Make sure to remove all diseased leaves and branches from the growing area. You can also apply a systemic fungicide several times in the early spring through the rainy season. Thoroughly treat all leaf and twig surfaces.

Powdery mildew and fire blight are also potential problems. And root rot is possible if the soil is too wet. You also might see leaf scorch, crown gall, and gray mold.

Insects that you might find on this shrub include caterpillars, European fruit-tip moths, mites, and scale insects.

Common Problems With Red Tip Photinia

Red tip photinia’s serious fungal problems are its main concern, but it still experiences some smaller 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 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 the growth of the beautiful leaves while removing 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 to its best appearance.

Overwintering

In the northern end of its hardiness range, protect this plant against winter cold. So, for gardeners in zone 7, which extends from New Jersey in the East to northern Texas and up to the western part of the U.S. to Washington State, thickly cover the root crown with a thick layer of dry mulch.

Dry mulch can include leaves, straw, or brushwood. Wrap the individual shoots in burlap, mainly to protect the flowering buds. These safeguards are not necessary for warmer zones.

III. Types of Red Tip Photinia

Photinia is derived from the Greek word “photeinos,” which means shiny, aptly describing the young plant’s leaves. Some of the most popular varieties of red tip photinia include:

  • Photinia x fraseri’ Red Robin’: Red Robin 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’: Pink Marble is a newer cultivar, featuring rose pink young leaves with variegated white margins. It grows 7 to 14 feet tall and 6 to 10 feet wide.

IV. Uses and Benefits 

Photinia is great for evergreen hedges. Long-lasting leaves and fast growth rate mean privacy is guaranteed within a few years.

For a more ornamental impact, alternate photinia with other beautiful evergreen shrubs: Abelia, Forsythia, silverberry and the occasional laurel tree.

  • For a 6-foot hedge (1.8m), plant each photinia 3 feet (1m) from the next.
  • Fast growing photinia is ideal for all types of hedge, even topiary.

Red-Tip Photinia (Photinia x fraseri) Details

Common name Fraser Photinia, Fraser's Photinia, Red-Tip Photinia
Botanical name Photinia x fraseri
Plant type Perennial
Hardiness zone 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b
Growth rate Fast
Harvest time Fall
Height 10 ft. 0 in. - 20 ft. 0 in.
Width 10 ft. 0 in. - 20 ft. 0 in.
Sunlight Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
Flower color White
Leaf color Gold/Yellow