An experts guide to the Red Robin (Photinia) in the UK

December, 2023
Darren Spalding

The technical term for this shrub is Photinia x fraseri 'Red Robin'. Photinias are a group of plants that are native to North America and Asia. The Photinia x fraseri was first discovered as a seedling in Fraser Nurseries in Birmingham Alabama in 1943. The most popular of all the Photinias is a hybrid variety, bred in New Zealand and known as "Red Robin." It is the most compact of them all while retaining its red leaves.

This shrub is often underrated solely because it has such widespread popularity. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) recognizes this as an important plant, making it worthy of receiving the Award of Garden Merit. It is certainly a favourite around the world. It has been in existence for 70 years and is said to be one of the most popular plants in New Zealand. The Red Robin can grow up to 2 metres high but you can control its size through pruning techniques.

Looking to get a red robin plant in your garden? We've put together an informational checklist below to make sure it's right for you:

  • The red robin plant has good disease resistance apart from the threat of leaf spots. We have gone into more detail on this further on in this guide.
  • An evergreen shrub that reaches a height of 4m / 13ft and spreads in similar proportions if not pruned. When established, Red Robin grows at about 30cm per year. It's responsive to pruning and can be kept at a height of 1.2m / 4ft or lower for easy care.
  • It is hardy in most areas of the UK, withstanding temperatures as low as -12°C. In a protected environment the photinia red robin is a little hardy to a few degrees lower.
  • Most soils can be suitable for this type of plant, but it does best in a deep loam and is not dependent on the specific type.
  • A versatile plant can be grown as a specimen plant or planted individually in containers. Whether grew singly for a hedge or growing against fences and walls It can be a pretty good looking plant! Although it makes a great hedge, it probably wouldn't be the best idea for a security hedge, as the red robin hedge is quite easy to part and has no thorns.
  • The photinia red robin as you can imagine... has bright red leaf tips, which as the plant starts to mature begin to turn green. Alongside its red-tipped leaves, it will also start flowering and grow white flowers if not pruned the year before.
  • Photinia trees grows best in rich, moist soil. They do well in full sun or partial shade environments and need to be protected from drying winds and late frosts.
  • Once fully matured/established the red robin will very rarely require any watering.
  • Photinia Red Robin is listed as not being toxic to dogs but could cause problems for grazing animals like horses and cows.

How to plant a Photinia x fraseri Red Robin?

For a quick-growing hedge, plants should be 2.5ft (75cm) apart, or 3ft (90cm) away from walls and fences if you want to grow a dense hedge.

Hedges should not be planted closer than one foot from fences or walls because if they are, their roots will not have enough moisture. Red Robin hedges won't grow thick and may not hinder intruders from entering your property so carefully consider how much protection you need before planting any type of hedge.

  • Plant the plant in an area where it will receive a lot of bright indirect light. Avoid planting it against two walls, as the lack of air circulation may prevent the plant from thriving.
  • This shrub can be planted at any point in the year, all year round, as long as it isn't frozen. You should water well during times of dry conditions. Before May and November are ideal for planting this type of plant.
  • To keep the soil from becoming too heavy, add compost and work it into the area.
  • The hole for planting should be around twice the width of the rootball, make sure you've added your nutrients such as blood, bone and fish.
  • As expected, you need to place the red robin plant in the hole, making sure it's filled with soil, a similar depth as the pot it originally came in. Add the soil around the roots, gently firm the soil down around the edges and water well!

How to care for a photinia red robin

A photinia red robin is a self-sufficient shrub that requires little to no watering, but if there is a severe drought it will need water. It still needs no additional nutrients and grows well on the average ground. Pruning should be done 2 or 3 times a year.

For younger plants, water them if the environment dries. Feed them with blood and bone twice annually in spring and fall to encourage a good root system. Keep the immediate area of the plant clear from weeds or other vegetation so they can grow vertically without worry.

Red Robins shed leaves all year long, which can lead to constant sweeping. Leaves left at the base will accumulate in a moist environment and provide an ideal home for slugs and snails-so be sure to clean up fallen leaves frequently!

When and how to prune a Photinia Red Robin

Photinia red robin can be shaped in many ways but they tend to grow the best when left to their own devices. One way of shaping them is to prune twice a year, once in early spring and another time in late summer or early fall

You only need to remove any dead wood from your plant so it can continue growing strong! The leaves you do choose not to keep should be removed by pruning the tips of larger branches loosely every few years.

If you want to trim a stem, cut it at the node above a leaf. Generally, with a photinia red robin, you can prune it any way you wish, no special treatment is needed. Take a hedge trimmer to the red robin if you really fancy...

How to grow red robins in containers

A single Red Robin will grow in a large container, but make sure the diameter is an ample 45cm or more. Standard peat-based compost or John Innes potting mix should do the trick.

The plant should be fed every month between March to August with a handful of blood, fish and bone. Regularly water the plant until you notice 3 cm has dried up at the top. Once this happens, wait for it to dry out an inch more before watering again.

Pruning is as described above, but it may need to be done more often if the shrub is in a light container to avoid being weighed down by the pot.

What pests and diseases do you need to watch out for with a red robin hedge?

Red robins are plants that rarely have pests, but they can be prone to leaf spots. Red Robin plants can also be susceptible to aphids, perineum moths and Japanese beetles.

As long as you keep your plant clean of pests and dead leaves, it should thrive for years to come!

When and how to propagate the Photinia Red Robin

Red Robins are easy to propagate and the chances of success, even for very amateur gardeners, are very high. The following guidelines will ensure the best outcome:

  • Between late July and September, take the plant cuttings to your preserving pot. If possible, store them in a plastic bag for maximum moisture loss protection. When you're ready to start planting your new cutting, make the final cut on an angled slant; this will minimize healing of the length of the stem while minimising root attachment.
  • Use a cutting about 2mm thick taken from just below a stem node. Cut the stem while it is still semi-ripe (not new soft growth, but also not hard old growth).
  • Cut off the lower leaves of the cutting.
  • Place three cuttings in the pot that is 8 centimeters wide and 4 centimeters deep.
  • Gently pack the compost close to the cuttings. This improves good contact with the stem and provides a higher chance of success.
  • Fill a deep bowl with water and place the pot in it for thirty minutes so that the bottom third is soaked but not uneven.
  • Drain the water from the pot and wrap it with a thin plastic film or dip it in cling wrap to secure. Plant markers will work as good holders for this.
  • Place your pot in a shady / partial shade & cool area.

Remove the plastic bag from your cuttings two to three weeks after your plant them. At this point, they should have rooted well enough that it's safe to move them out of the covered container. Next April or May is a good time to transplant full-grown cuttings outside for the winter.

Ensure that the rooted cuttings are kept in a cold greenhouse or outside but away from harsh weather. They may need to be watered, too - keep the compost slightly moist, but don't overwater it.


How far back can I prune an overgrown Red Robin?

In our experience, we have cut branches back very severely and they always grow back. An out of control plant can be easily trimmed back to a manageable 60cm / 2ft height if done in the springtime when the plant's growth is most vigorous.

How to spot leaf spots on a red robin and deal with it

Damp, humid, and cold conditions are the most likely culprit for this type of damage to a plant. The symptoms include leaves that have dark red or black spots on them and eventually fall off. In more severe cases, plants can be severely damaged as well.

When only a few leaves on your plant have spots, remove them and burn them immediately. If the damage is more extensive, you can spray pesticide over the plant to prevent future 'attacks' or dig up and destroy the soil so it can't take root in that spot.

After pruning back hard in mid-May, remove all the prunings and wait a month or so to see new red growth.

Honey fungus & the Photinia Red Robin

This fungal disease spreads underground from plants to other plants and trees. It attacks the root system and results in the gradual inability to absorb moisture without nutrients. It's important to know the signs when dealing with sick plants. If the plant is generally unhealthy with white fungus showing near ground level on stems, if you dig carefully to its roots below, they will be even more clearly covered in that white material.

Is Red Robin fast-growing?

The shrub Photinia × fraseri 'Red Robin' can grow as fast-growing as much as 1ft (30cm) every year, so cut the stems to 15cm (6in) and wait for new bright leaves.

How can I make my Red Robin grow faster?

First, redo older branches to stimulate the growth of new shoots and clear the centre so that light can reach it. The more frequent you prune it, the faster it grows. If you're looking for a fast-growing plant with red leaves, drastic pruning will do the trick.

Why has my Red Robin gone green?

The shrubs turn red first and then eventually green, so if you trim them they will grow fresh new patches of red foliage.

Does Red Robin have flowers?

The Red Robin shrub or tree does have flowers but they are not very noticeable and they are usually white in colour.

What goes well with Photinia Red Robin?

One of the best shrubs for this purpose is Euonymus fortunei "Emerald 'n' Gold" because it complements Photinia Red Robin in form, size and colour. Hebes also work well but they can attract slugs due to their lower height.

Can you move a photinia red robin hedge?

Move your Red Robin Bush during March to remove the old, brown leaves. This will shock the plant and cause dieback; however, you should still have plenty of green branches.

Do Red Robins have deep roots?

New Red Robin plants should be capable of managing themselves with regards to water except in extreme prolonged dry spells. Over the first year, however, roots are not very deep and may need regular watering during periods if rain is low.

Should I cut the flowers off my Red Robin?

Red Robin is known for being a trouble-free plant, but it can be susceptible to leaf spots. ... The best way to address this issue is through pruning because it encourages new growth. Red Robin responds well to pruning - cutting back stems in late spring/early summer will encourage younger and leafier shoots on your plant.

Is Red Robin poisonous to cats?

Photinia 'Red Robin' does not contain toxic effects on animals.

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