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24 September 2014

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You are in: Lancashire > Nature > Features > Ask the gardener: Red Robin (Photinia)

photinia

Ask the gardener: Red Robin (Photinia)

Gardening tips from Bill Blackledge on how to look after your Red Robin (Photinia) plants...

Warton's Bill Blackledge is one of the county's most popular and sought after gardeners.   If it's green and needs watering, Bill can tell you about it.  He has been answering BBC Radio Lancashire listeners' queries for over thirty years, which means he's been there nearly as long as the transmitter!

His knowledge is encyclopedic. After training at the under the then Ministry of Agriculture, Bill spent over twenty years at the Department of Biological and Environmental Services at Lancaster University.  Now, he's a regular course tutor at Alston Hall, Longridge and Lancaster Adult College.

For three decades, Bill has travelled the county with fellow judges as a regional judge for North West in Bloom.

So, whatever the problem, we like to think Bill can sort it out... at least that's the theory!

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Kay Darke asks...

I had a fully grown (pot grown) photinia planted in front of a fence about three and a half years ago. It took a while to get going, and lost almost all its leaves, but it seemed to rally just fine and last year it was covered with lovely white flowers. This is the only time it flowered. Will it do so again?  I've never pruned it. Should I?

Bill replies...

Photinia (Red Robin) Kay is usually grown for its beautiful red leaves and these appear on newly formed shoots and regular pruning will encourage new shoots and obviously new red leaves.  With regard to the flowering of your Photinia flowers will appear frequently on large established plants which do not receive regular pruning.

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Jane Simms asks...

I am about to plant a photinia hedge and was wondering what shrubs to plant in the bed in front of it to set each other off best. I have about 12 foot to fill

Bill replies...

I do feel that it is important Jane not to incorporate very vigorous growing shrubs which will be in direct competition with your Photinia Hedge for nutrients and water and therefore I would recommend a mixture of shrubs and herbaceous plants/ornamental grasses, a selection of which I am listing below;

Shrubs: The variegated shrubs Euonymus Emerald Gaiety, Emerald Gold and Choisya Ternata Sun Dance which will give you contrasting colours and you can also incorporate Hebe species such as Pinguifolia and Great Orme. You can also incorporate Lavender Augustifolia.

Grasses: If you prefer Ornamental Grasses I would incorporate the Zebra Grass (Miscanthus Sinensis Zebrinus) or Stipapinnata

Herbaceous Perennials:  There are numerous Herbaceous Perennials you could use such as Geums, Scabious, Lupins, Phlox and Rudbeckia species.     

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James Newton asks...

I am planting 5 Photinia 'Red Robin' into large Terracotta pots and underplanting with dwarf narcissus Tete a Tete. When is the best time to do this? Autumn? How long can I expect the Photinias to live in these pots before they have to be removed and transplanted?

Bill replies...

If your five Photinia plants are already growing in containers you can repot these into large terracotta pots and you do not need to wait until autumn time - these can be transplanted now (May). I would use a mixture of a soil base compost - John Innes No 2 or 3 - and a general multi purpose compost at a ratio of two parts John Innes to one part multi purpose.  You mentioned replanting in the autumn and under planting with dwarf Tete a Tete but I am not a firm believer of under planting containers with Narcissi as I feel that they will take many nutrients from the soil and your Photinias but, obviously if you do go ahead and replant with bulbs repotting your Photinias in the autumn would be the obvious time.

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Christopher asks...

My gardener planted a 50 foot length of photina approximately 6 foot high in May 2007. It grew fantastically last year with lots of new foliage and a fantastic flowering in late May. I decided to give it its first light prune at the beginning of March this year since the height needed bringing down taking off approximately 1 foot. New red shoots have appeared but some of the leaves may have black spot. Or perhaps they are just turning red? Don't know how to tell, however I am concerned that for the last 8 weeks there is a lot of leaves falling off, both red and green. Surely it does not need watering at this time of year? The foliage is definitely thining.What should I do?

Bill replies...

Quite a number of Photinas Christopher have been losing their leaves which I feel in some respect is down to the wet conditions and, also contrasting temperatures - during March/April we had warm days but night time frosts - which, again will have caused leaf drop.  I do feel that your Photinas will start to produce new shoots but, with your plants being six feet high you will need to keep an eye on the watering if we do have a dry summer and also it would be worthwhile top dressing with a general base fertiliser such as Fish Blood and Bone Meal or GrowMore.  With regard to pruning you can prune through the summer months to encourage new shoots but, I would be inclined depending on weather conditions, to wait until April/May time.

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Don Coote asks...

I am considering buying a Photinia Red Robin, to replace an old apple tree in our front garden. I would like it to be a tree rather than a bush, and to grow to about 3m fairly soon (a couple of years or so). What size of specimen should I purchase, i.e. how fast does the Red Robin grow (particularly given I want to keep it as a tree rather than a bush with lower foliage)

Bill replies...

You can Don buy large Photinia plants and I am sure you will be able to purchase a specimen with one main trunk.  These however are quite expensive plants and can be quite difficult to establish.  It is also important to remember that Phontinias do not like being grown in a very heavy clay soil.  Taking this into account you may be better purchasing a smaller specimen which will firstly be cheaper and secondly easier to establish in your garden and I am sure that if you visit a number of Garden Centres you will be able to find a suitable container grown specimen with one main trunk which you will be able to train into a tree form.   

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Chris Banks asks...

I am thinking of putting my Photinia tree next to my new drive - how evasive are the roots?

Bill replies...

It is difficult to give you a defining answer to your question Chris but the roots of Photinas are nowhere as invasive as other tree species and to a certain extent a lot will depend on what your new drive has been constructed from.  I cannot see any problems with a concrete drive and also if your drive has a sound hard-core structure.

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Kerry Marshall asks...

Planted a 6 foot Photinia Red Robin 2.5 years ago, and it flourished initially. The a year ago it started looking sad. Have kept it well-watered in drought conditions, and fed from time to time. Well-sheltered, partial-shade, clay soil. Now, "sad" has become dramatic over the last year - leaves have shrivelled, turned blackish, hanging down, but not dropped. Local centre suggested liquid anti-fungus. This hasn't helped. Another suggested pruning and adding liquid seaweed. This I have recently done, but see no improvements. It has flowered over the winter (sign of dying?) and keeps putting out fresh leaves, but they are all drooping now. I had a rose bush which was transformed by moving to another border. I would move the photinia with lots of compost backfilling, but fear the shock might kill rather than cure. Soil is clay underneath a 9 inch deep topsoil. Thought the clay might be problem, but have a similar, older P. Fraseri which is flourishing in the "other" bed, 20 feet away. Symptoms suggest Firebright, but references say only P. Davidiana is susceptible. Is P. Fraseri also Firebright-susceptible?

Bill replies...

Photinias will grow in a wide range of soils Kerry but I am afraid that they are not happy in a heavy clay soil and this could quite easily be the reason why your Photinia is suffering.  What you will need to do if you intend transplanting your Photinia is to cut back some of the main shoots before lifting as this will cut down on transpiration loss and try and dig out as large a root ball as possible.  When replanting you will need to incorporate into the soil plenty of organic material and also grit sand to ensure your soil is reasonably well drained.  You also mention transplanting a rose bush to another part of the garden and that the rose bush was transformed but you do find that rose bushes do tolerate and are quite happy growing in a clay soil.  

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Liz Hollins asks...

I purchased a very large Photinia last year and it has not done at all well and has now got black spot.  I have had people from the garden centre out to look at it and they keep recommending various things and I am currently treating it with roseclear for the black spot.  The soil is heavy clay but I have kept it fed with fertiliser.  It is looking very straggly do you think it will recover and do you think I am within my rights to get it exchanged as it has a guarantee?  It was planted in April 2007.

Bill replies...

You will usually find with Photinias Liz that during the winter months on the older leaves quite often you will get black spots and discolouring and, this is mainly due to physical and winter conditions.  But, I am afraid that Photinias do not like being planted in a very heavy clay soil and if your ground has been water logged over the winter months this could be the reason why your plant is looking unhealthy.  Also, if your plant is looking very straggly it may be worthwhile pruning back to encourage new shoots to appear but I would not recommend that you do this before consulting with the Garden Centre from where you purchased your plant.

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Liz asks...

Both my potted red robin photinias get eaten by something that looks like a small green caterpillar in a white cocoon on the new fresh leaves?

Bill replies...

To control the caterpillars Liz you will need to spray your Photinia with a systemic insecticide and the one I would recommended is Provado Ultimate Bug Killer.  I would spray to run off either first thing in the morning or late evening but do not spray in direct sunlight as this could quite easily damage the leaves of your plant.  Another product which you could use is Sprayday Greenfly Killer which again will also control caterpillars and other garden pests.  Again avoid spraying in direct sunlight.

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Nick Scanlon asks...

I have a Photinia Red Robin in a container, it is a new plant and is around 3 feet tall. Is it ok to remove it and plant in the garden in February?

Bill replies...

Photinias are lovely shrubs Nick and will grow in a wide range of soils including chalky soils but try and avoid heavy clay soils and your Photinia will need to be planted in a sheltered but sunny position in your garden.  I would plant your container grown Photinia in the garden early springtime when the soil is warmer and it is important to give your plant a good watering the night before transplanting. 

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Sally asks...

My Red Robin photinia is growing well (I've had it just over a year), but something is eating the leaves, we do not have a slug/snail problem, and I am constantly checking for caterpillars but have never seen any.  What could it be and what can I do about it?

Bill replies...

If Sally you can see jagged teeth marks where pieces of the leaves have been eaten it could well be that the Photinia leaves are being eaten by a Weevil and the most likely Weevil could well be the adult Black Vine Weevil which are nocturnal and are only active during the evening. It is well worth your while to go into your garden in the evening with a torch and see if you can see any of these Weevils on the leaves.  As the name suggests the Weevil is black in colour and has a pointed nose and if you do see any of these you will need to catch and destroy them.  The adult Vine Weevil lays tiny black eggs at soil level and after approximately two/three weeks white pinkish grubs appear and these burrow into the soil and the tiny white grubs then start eating the roots of the plant.  It is also worthwhile to scrape some of the soil around your Photinia to see if any of these grubs are present.  There are products available which can be used to kill the grubs in the soil but I feel that it is important to find out if the Vine Weevil is the problem.  More information on Vine Weevil can be found on the World Wide Web.

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Iain Cobain asks...

A seven year old red robin in my front garden was snapped down by vandals. Can I put the ends in the ground and it will root like a dogwood or not?

Bill replies...

Cuttings Iain are usually taken from Photinias during the summer months and these need to be approximately four inches long and can be inserted in a cold frame or around the side of a five inch pot in a fifty/fifty peat and gravel mixture.  With regard to your plant which has been snapped off by vandals it would be worthwhile to take cuttings off the young shoots rather than insert as hardwood cuttings even though it is early in the year nothing ventured nothing gained.

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Joanne Lodge asks...

When is the best time to prune our Photinia Red Robin Trees? We have planted 6 trees, which seem to have taken well, and are now shooting. We are trying to make a hedge with them, but do not want to traumatise them, as they were only planted last autumn. Any advice would be appreciated.

Bill replies...

The time Joanne to prune your Photinia Red Robin is springtime and when your hedge is established you can then frequently prune through the summer months to encourage more young red foliage.  At the present time with your trees being newly planted I would let them get established and later in the summer if there are some rampant shoots appearing these can be cut back - just above a leaf - and this will encourage new shoots and will also thicken up the hedge.

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Dave Langhorn asks...

I have two photinia red robin trees in pots and they have become infested with brown leaf spots. The spots are ubiquitous across both trees. Can you advise what I can do to restore them please?

Bill replies...

You will usually find Dave that Photinias do suffer badly from browning of the leaves and brown and black spots appearing on the leaves.  This is caused by weather conditions and is not a fungal disease.  I am afraid that there is not much you can do to remedy the problem but, in early springtime I usually cut the older shoots back and the new shoots and leaves which will appear through the summer months tend to be not affected with the problem and quite often many people prune back their Photinias at least twice a year over the summer period to encourage new and healthy leaves.

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Elaine asks...

We recently had our garden landscaped and it was all planted at the end of January. 3 photinia red robins were planted against our fence and they were fairly established (about 6 feet tall). The problem is that now all three are looking very sad and a lot of the leaves have fallen off and new shoots that are coming through are looking shrivelled. Is there anything we can do to help them because others that are in neighbouring gardens are looking really vibrant?

Bill replies...

Since you planted your Photinias in January Elaine we have had horrendous weather conditions and I am sure this is the main factor with regard to the new shoots shrivelling.  Also, the size of the plants could quite easily be another factor as it is difficult to establish six foot Photinias - these will more than likely have been kept in a cool polytonal during the winter months and you would have been far better planting these out in March/April time.  It may be far better - but this is virtually defeating your object - is to prune them back to approximately three to four feet - they will start to shoot again and hopefully the new red shoots will be healthy.  There are a number of factors which have caused the problems: a) planting in January b) where the plants had been situated before purchase c) the size of the plants and d) whether these plants are container grown or open transplants.

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Julie asks...

I have recently brought a Photinia Fraseri "Camilvy" bush which has not done well since I've planted it. Its leaves started to curl up and patchy areas and holes in leaves so a few days ago I sprayed it with an insect plant spray but it's looking half dead now the leaves have turned yellowy brown and shrivelled. Can you tell me what could be wrong with it and can I revive it?

Bill replies...

Photinias prefer to be planted in a sheltered spot Julie as they do suffer from wind scorch damage. It is difficult to pin point exactly why the leaves have started to curl and patchy areas and holes appearing in the leaves.  If part of the leaves have been eaten away this could have been caused by the vine weevil and the small holes in the leaves could be caterpillar damage.  I feel that you just need to keep an eye on your plant it could be the shock of transplanting which has caused the leaves to curl and there is not much that you can do at the present time but to keep an eye on the watering and hopefully new shoots will start to appear.

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David asks...

Could you please tell me what is causing black spots on the leaves of my Red Robin (Photinia), it is planted in a large pot and stands in a partial sunny spot.

Bill replies...

I would not worry too much about the black spots on your Red Robin this happens quite frequently with Photinias and this usually occurs on the lower and mature leaves and is usually caused by adverse weather conditions and also the sudden change from hot to cold weather periods.  You will usually find that the new red leaves will be fine but I would just apply a general base fertiliser to your Red Robin such as Vitax Q4 or Fish Blood and Bone Meal.

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Tim asks...

I have just planted a 10 foot red robin tree in a very big pot/container and want to make sure I feed it the right 'tree food' or nutrients.  What would you suggest? Many thanks.

Bill replies...

You will need to feed your Red Robin (Photinia) with a balanced slow release fertiliser which also has trace elements such as Vitax Q4 or a granulated slow release fertiliser which is now available for shrubs  If you have repotted your Photinia in a brand multi purpose compost there will be enough nutrients in the compost to feed your plant for 4 to 6 weeks.

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William Kelly asks...

What is the appropriate fertiliser for photinia and how frequently should the plants be fed?  We have our terrace ringed with photinia planted in large plastic planters.  The plants are about two metres high.

Bill replies...

The fertiliser I use for a wide range of my container plants William is Vitax Q4 which contains the main nutrients, nitrogen, phosphate and potash and also trace elements.  For information on Vitax Q4 you can log onto their web site www.vitax.co.uk

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Marie Blower asks...

My red robin, which is in a large pot, has lost most of its leaves and has green powder on the stem. Bone meal was added to the pot about a week before. Could this have caused the problems and can I save my tree? Thank you.

Bill replies...

It happens quite often with Photinias (Red Robin) that if the plant dries out or, they suffer a check in growth Marie they do tend to drop their leaves, and I feel it would be worthwhile to prune some of the shoots back - which will encourage new leaves and growth.  You mention green powder on the stems - I am sure this is algal growth which tends to be dominant if your plant is growing in a shaded spot.  I am sure the addition of Bone Meal is not the cause of the problems unless you have given your Red Robin 'bucketfulls'!

If the shoots on your plant are still green when pruning you will usually find that your Red Robin will start to shoot again.

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Janet asks...

I have a large Red Robin photinia shrub which I moved last year.  It seemed to be OK last year after moving but is now losing all its leaves.  It is growing new shoots at the end of each branch but it looks very straggly.  Is there anything that can be done?  It's supposed to give us privacy from neighbours but it's not working!

Bill replies...

It is important when you move any large shrub to ensure you keep it well watered for at least twelve months and it could be Janet that your Photinia is suffering from being transplanted.  To ensure new shoots appear from the base you are going to have to prune your Photinia hard back which will encourage new and vigorous shoots to regenerate.  One of the problems with Photinia is that the shrub does quite often lose its lower leaves and is not the ideal shrub to use as a screen.

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last updated: 02/06/2008 at 14:41
created: 23/10/2006

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