By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Photinia is a fairly common hedge shrub. Red tip photinia provides a lovely backdrop to the rest of the garden and is an easy to care for plant that grows moderately fast and produces an attractive screen. The most common problem in photinia is black spot, which occurs when the plant is grown in hot humid climates. In other zones, the plant needs minimal supplemental water, light pruning and an annual fertilizer to promote health. Read on for more information on how to fertilize photinia.
Photinia is relatively self sustaining provided it is planted in sandy loam with excellent drainage and good circulation. Feeding photinias is recommended in areas with more challenging soil consistencies and where nutrients are low. Gardeners wondering, when should I feed my red tip photinia, should rely upon common plant guidelines.
The best time for most plant fertilizing is just prior to the new year’s flush of growth in late winter to early spring. This gives the plant the fuel to promote new leafy growth and strong roots. The requirements for young plants vary slightly from established mature photinia.
Newly planted photinia require higher amounts of phosphorus for root growth. The second number on plant food refers to the amount of phosphorus. Older plants need balanced macro-nutrients. Perform a soil test to determine which nutrients your soil may be lacking and that will determine the best fertilizer for photinia.
Nitrogen promotes leafy growth and it is the first number on the formulation. The last number refers to the potassium level in the plant food. Potassium enhances flower and fruit production as well as overall plant health and ability to uptake nutrients. As a rule, an all purpose fertilizer is an appropriate red tip photinia fertilizer and will take care of the plant’s basic nutrient needs.
Feeding photinias starts in late spring and may be done once a month up until September. Mix into soil a granular food with high phosphorus content at installation. Mix it well to a depth of at least 18 inches (46 cm.) and water the plant deeply once you have placed soil around the roots and base of plant. Older plants benefit from monthly fertilizer applied either granularly or as a foliar drench.
Spray foliar applications when the sun is low and leaves can dry before the sun’s hot rays can burn the moist foliage. Temperatures should be between 60 and 80 F. (16-27 C.) and you should water the plant deeply after any type of feeding.
Red tip photinia fertilizer during the growing months will help ensure a healthy disease and pest resistant plant that will be resistant to the environment’s most extreme effects.
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Photinia stand out with their scarlet and red-colored leaves.
Name – Photinia x fraseri
Family – Rosaceae
Height – 3 to 10 feet (1 to 3 m)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – ordinary
Foliage – evergreen
Flowering – spring
Planting, pruning and caring for them are steps that help enhance blooming and growth of your Photinia.
Above: A leggy, sickly-looking Photinia
Photinia ‘Red Robin’ is a shrub which has become extremely popular in recent years, and can be used for a wide variety of situations, even trimmed as a ‘standard’ to give a tree-like shape to provide evergreen screening above a 6ft fence or wall. It is a vigorous, large-leafed evergreen, mainly grown for the bright red colour of the young leaves, which gradually mature to a glossy dark green – or should do! There are a number of factors which could be involved here. Photinias don’t do particularly well in shade or in close proximity with large, established trees. When grown in the shade they tend to become drawn and rather straggly and, although like most evergreens they won’t tolerate being waterlogged for long, excessively dry locations tend to stress them, making them drop more of the older leaves than they otherwise would. Photinias will grow in a range of soil types, including quite alkaline conditions if there is sufficient organic matter, but they could be described as hungry feeders. Their natural growth habit is quite vigorous and upright, producing new leaves at the tips of long upright stems, and dropping the older leaves as they go, the result of which, if left to their own devices, is often a rather straggly shrub with “bare legs”! However, with a little bit of work every year, and it doesn’t have to be very much, these shrubs can look completely different dense, glossy and colourful.
Firstly, an annual trim is essential to encourage side branching and to maintain density, just as you would do for a hedge. In fact, if the site isn’t too windy, too cold or too wet, Photinias can be used to make an attractive hedge with great effect. I like to give an annual trim in June to maintain density – it breaks your heart to remove a fair proportion of the new red leaves, but a second flush will soon emerge after a few weeks which will then see you through to the autumn. Don’t trim too late in the summer or autumn as the new leaves will still be too soft when the frosts come and will be frost burnt. Restorative pruning of a leggy specimen can be done by hard-pruning to just above a bud or node, cutting quite far down the leggy stems to encourage a bushier plant this is most effective if done in April or May, depending on how cold the weather is, during the first flush of vigorous spring growth. Secondly, as I’ve said, they are hungry feeders, so an annual feed in April works wonders. A general fertiliser, such as Fish, Blood & Bonemeal, or a good Rose fertiliser, will make a significant difference to the appearance and colour of the foliage. If necessary, repeat this in mid-summer. Another aspect to feeding Photinias is that their vigorous nature means that they use a lot of Magnesium, a shortage of which would encourage the plant to shed yet more of the older leaves. Magnesium is a very mobile nutrient, and it is easily leached out of freely draining soils during prolonged periods of rain, and drought conditions will also affect the plant’s ability to take it up. A tablespoonful of Epsom salts dissolved in a gallon of water and applied at or soon after applying the other fertiliser will help prevent a deficiency, which would otherwise result in the plant taking Magnesium out of the older leaves to put into the new ones. Interestingly though, Magnesium deficiency symptoms in Photinias often cause little burgundy-coloured spots on the older leaves, as well as a general yellowing of the older foliage. These spots can easily be mistaken for a fungal leaf spot disease. This doesn’t of course mean that Photinias can’t be affected by leaf spot diseases, of course they can, as are most plants in some form. However, it tends to be already stressed plants that are worst affected. You can control these fungal leaf spot diseases to a point using general fungicides, such as those for spraying roses, but an otherwise healthy and well-fed Photinia will usually just shrug-off leaf spot and continue to grow happily regardless.
Being too dry for too long, or too cold in winter, are other stress factors which can also stimulate Photinias to drop more of the older leaves and thereby necessitate a one-off restorative pruning, so occasional watering in long periods of dry weather (I use the washing-up water!) will help with that potential problem, but there’s not a lot you can do about a cold winter. For this reason, due to the greater proportion of older leaves dropped in spring following a cold winter in the North of the country than our Southern cousins would experience, Photinia is not very suitable for ‘pleaching’ (fanning out on a flat panel above a tall clear stem to give a two-dimensional screen) in the North as it is difficult to maintain sufficient density to give the required effect.
This is a question that I get asked a lot, so I’ve given quite a lot of information here, but to sum up, if you want Photinias to keep their density and to look their best, trim them annually, feed them once or twice per year with a general fertiliser and some additional Magnesium, don’t let them get too dry for too long (but don’t drown them) and never plant them in the shade.
This shrub is often used as a sheared hedge and when clipped often, produces flushes of red new growth. This new growth, although attractive, makes the plant susceptible to leaf spot. For best results, prune in late winter, making sure you rake up all the plant material when finished. The shrub responds well to shearing, although it may start to thin at the bottom due to lack of sunlight to that area. You can also train it as a small tree. Each year, no matter how you shape the shrub, cut out dead, broken and diseased branches with sharp pruning shears. Clip out crossing branches to increase circulation within the canopy.
It’s worth thinking for a moment about where you want to plant your Photinia. Photinia will tolerate a wide range of soil types but good drainage is pretty important.
Soil that has good structure and is well supplied with nutrients will obviously encourage your Photinia to grow more prolifically and strongly.
Avoid soil with high pH levels. And also avoid areas where water tends to pool because even the best soil won’t help your Photinia overcome excess water.