Newsletter ArchivesRed-tip Photinia almost eliminated
Mississippi Gardens Newspaper and Web Column - April 5, 2004
Ten years ago, one of the most popular shrubs in the South was the Red-tip Photinia (Photinia fraseri). Everybody wanted this handsome evergreen shrub and it was widely grown by Southern nursery growers for use in both commercial and residential landscapes.
Red-tip is a wonderful, large, evergreen shrub with attractive foliage and showy white flowers. Its claim to fame is brilliant red new foliage that appears in the spring.
Nevertheless, in the last ten years or so, Red-tip has gone from the top of the list to the bottom due to intense pressure from a devastating fungal disease.
Red-tip is highly susceptible to the fungal pathogen known as Entomosporium that causes leaf spots and ultimately defoliation. The disease has all but eliminated Red-tip from the list of recommended shrubs for Southern landscapes. In fact, the disease is so widespread that one plant pathologist jokingly explained that there are two types of Red-tip, those that have the disease and those that are going to get it! So, even though newly planted Red-tip bushes may stay disease free for many years, ultimately they will succumb to the inevitable.
There are suggested replacements for Red-tip Photinia, one of which, Chinese Photinia (Photinia serrulata), is actually quite similar in many ways to Red-tip. Chinese Photinia is a large shrub that will eventually make a small tree with lustrous green leaves that are a little larger than those of Red-tip and slightly more serrated. Its flowers are also white and very showy. However, instead of having brilliant red new growth its foliage tends to be more coppery red and thus less dazzling than its unfortunate cousin.
Chinese Photinia is typically resistant to the leaf spot disease and thrives in Mississippi's warm climate. It is listed as having a mature height of 10 to 15 feet with a width of 8 to 12. However, the specimen I recently photographed was about 25 feet tall and just as wide! In fact, I walked up under this tree to photograph the plant's attractive, dark, exfoliating bark and multi-stemmed structure.
It would be nice to replace Red-tip with the Chinese Photinia because it gives much the same look from foliage to flower and is actually considered to be a superior plant. Its rapid growth rate and lustrous leaves make Chinese Photinia an excellent choice for use as a privacy hedge or living screen in areas where there is plenty of room to grow. Chinese Photinia can also be used as an attractive specimen tree. Its growth habit, however, is more oval as compared to the upright form of the Red-tip. Plant Chinese Photinia in well-drained soil with full sun exposure for best results. Happy gardening!
These archived columns were written by Kerry Johnson<, a hobby gardener, former weekly newspaper columnist and retired Extension Horticulture Agent for 11 coastal counties in Mississippi.