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Expert guide to Photinia Red Robin

Photinia is a genus of between 50 and 60 species of small trees and shrubs, mostly evergreen and almost always with shiny foliage. The name Photinia is widely used as the common name, but in earlier times ‘Christmas berry’ was often applied. Red Robin is one of the most common plants in the UK.


Introduction

By far the most popular Photinia currently planted in the UK is Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’, a plant that is recognised by the RHS Award of Garden Merit. The plant has seen a meteoric rise in popularity both grown as a large shrub, hedging plant or as a small tree. This popularity is no coincidence, as this plant has so many upsides to it, that it often ticks all the boxes when varying uses are desirable.

Photinia
Photinia can be found across the globe, from the cool temperate climate of the UK, to the Indonesian Island of Bali, as seen here.

History of Photinia

The greek word for shiny is photeinos and is thought to be a reference to its glossy like leaves. The genus photinia originates from parts of Asia and North America where a temperate climate prevails, and is a member of the Rosacea family.

Photinia x Fraseri is a cross between Photinia serrulata and Photinia glabra originating from the renowned Fraser nursery in Alabama USA. The hybrid “Red Robin” originates from a New Zealand grower, who could not have envisaged its eventual popularity in the last twenty years. The cultivar eventually found its way to prominence via such events as the RHS Chelsea Flower show and similar events at Hampton Court and Tatton.

Latterly, some of the larger Mediterranean production nurseries have successfully produced red robin in exquisite topiary forms, further adding to the plant’s versatility. On entering the UK market, it was felt that Photinia red robin may not be completely hardy in more northerly parts. However, apart from some late frost damage that eventually disappears, red robin has proved remarkably tough.

Interestingly, the International Society for Horticultural Science also did some detailed testing of Photinia red robin regarding adaptability to water stress, using other well known shrubs as a comparison and discovered the plant’s higher adaptability with reduced water availability.

Photinia red robin trees and photinia red robin hedge
Photinia in various forms. From left, Standard Tree, Bushy Hedge and Pleached Tree

Photinia Hedge Plants

Photinia can form a tight evergreen hedge up to 5m tall, with shiny leaves that flush bright red in the Spring. Hedge-cutters can be used to obtain an almost solid wall of leaf. Furthermore, is tolerant of most soils, including heavy clay and will also survive in partial shade. Neither does the plant suffer from any significant diseases, unlike an increasingly large list of evergreen species available throughout Europe.

‘Red Robin’ is now the most popular of all plants sold by most nurseries and garden centres throughout the UK, the consequence of being such an adaptable tree or shrub. It can be planted in large gardens as a specimen shrub or in smaller gardens as a valuable constituent of any shrub boarder.

Screening Trees

In its tree form it would usually have a clear stem of 1.75 to 2m with a bushy head extending another 2m plus. Planted at 1-1.5m centres, a continuous row of Photinia will make a solid raised evergreen screen. These trees can be planted relatively close to buildings because of its modest root growth and versatility, a fact that makes it suitable for planting between gardens of modest size.

Photinia ‘Red Robin’ when grown into a mature hedge is very tough and will tolerate any amount of football, tennis or cricket activities. As it is totally bereft of prickles it will not cause injury where children are concerned.

Further reading:

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