Red Robin Overview
|Official Plant Name||Photinia x Fraseri ‘Red Robin’|
|Common Name(s)||Christmas Berry|
|Flowers||Sparse creamy-white flowers|
|When To Plant||April, May|
|Flowering Months||April, May|
|When To Prune||February, March|
Full Sun or Partial Shade
Exposed or Sheltered
2.5 – 4M
2.5 – 4M
April – May
Clay, loam, sand
Moist but well drained
Neutral / Acidic
Photinia ‘Red Robin’ is almost a garden cliché due to its popularity, but there is good reason for that and it could still be a great choice for your garden.
Many gardeners and landscapers choose this useful shrub for their gardens. But just because this is a common choice, that does not mean that it is one to avoid.
On the contrary, this is a plant which works very well in many gardens in the British Isles, and it could be an excellent choice for your own garden.
To find out more about this useful shrub, whether it is the right choice for your garden, and how to care for it, read on.
What is Photinia ‘Red Robin’?
Photinia, technically Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ is a popular red-leaved cultivar of Photinia, also known as ‘Christmas berry’.
This is a genus of North American and Asian shrubs, and most forms used in gardens are forms of the hybrid Photinia x fraseri, evergreen hybrids which are grown for their colourful young foliage.
These were developed from Asian species of this genus. Though they do flower, they do so sparsely, with small, creamy-white flowers in spring.
‘Red Robin’ is an eye-catching example of this group of evergreen hybrids. It has bright red young grown, and leaves turn to a dark, glossy shade of green as they mature.
The name Photinia comes from the Greek word, ‘photeinos’, which means shiny. This name refers, of course, to the glossy sheen of the young foliage. The hybrid is named after Fraser plant nurseries in Alabama, in the US, where it was discovered in 1943.
The ‘Red Robin’ cultivar was subsequently developed in New Zealand. It has since become by far the most popular of all Photinias grown in gardens.
Why Grow Photinia ‘Red Robin’?
Photinia ‘Red Robin’ is a useful and low maintenance ornamental shrub which can be useful for a garden border.
It works very well as a shrub for gardeners who wish to break up the green and find colourful foliage plants to bring year-round colour and interest to their garden.
It is H5 hardy, and should usually see through the winter with no issue. Though young foliage can sometimes get minor frost damage.
You can grow this shrub in a border, or as part of a hedge.
It can be a good choice for hedges as it is easy to shape. This also means that it can be an excellent shrub for topiary, and can be shaped in a range of different ways – as a typical shrub, or in a standard tree or pleached tree type form.
It can be kept relatively small, or grow up to around 5m tall. The Royal Horticultural Society has given this plant the Award of Garden Merit.
Note that if ‘Red Robin’ is too large for your needs, there is also a recently introduced cultivar, ‘Little Red Robin’. This is a dwarf variety more suited to small gardens or to growing in containers. It typically has a spread and height of no more than a metre or so.
Where To Grow
Photinia ‘Red Robin’ will grow best in full sun or partial shade. But in fact, it can survive in a bed with any aspect in your garden, be it south, east, west or north-facing, as long as it is not in deep shade.
It can usually cope in sheltered or exposed conditions. However, due to the potential for frost damage, it can be best to place this Photinia in a relatively sheltered spot, out of any frost pockets, if you live in a cooler, more northerly location.
What Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ will need is a fertile, humus-rich type of soil, which is clay, loam or sand, and which is neutral or acidic. It will not thrive in alkaline conditions. The soil should be moist but relatively free-draining.
If you have heavy clay soil, you should add plenty of garden compost or well-rotted manure to improve conditions before planting.
One other thing to note is that ‘Red Robin’ needs good air circulation to avoid diseases. So while it can grow well against a garden boundary fence or wall, it should not be hemmed into a corner, or have planting around it which is too dense.
Planting Photinia ‘Red Robin’
‘Red Robin’ is best planted in spring or autumn. However, you can buy container-grown plants throughout the year.
Just avoid planting Photinia during arid and very hot periods in the summer, or when the ground is frozen in winter.
If you do plant in summer – take note that your Photinia will require a lot of watering over the first few months until it becomes established.
When planting a container-grown Photinia, make sure that you dig a hole double the width of the container, making sure that the depth is correct so that the plant will sit at the same level that it did in the pot.
It can be helpful to add a handful of blood fish and bone organic fertiliser to the bottom of the planting hole where soil fertility is not optimal, to get this shrub off to a good start.
Place the plant carefully into the hole you have prepared, and fill the soil back in around the plant, tamping it down firmly but gently. Water the shrub in well.
If you wish to make a hedge of ‘Red Robin’, the plants are usually placed at a spacing of 75cm.
Mulch around the Photinia you have planted with a good quality organic mulch to retain water, add nutrients, and suppress weeds.
Caring For Photinia ‘Red Robin’
Over time, Photinia ‘Red Robin’ will be an easy plant and will require little care and attention. However, you will need to water during dry periods over the first couple of growing seasons.
Replenish the mulch and consider fertilising with an organic fertiliser each spring and autumn for the first couple of years. However, after a couple of growing seasons, a Red Robin grown in the ground should not require much more attention from you at all.
You may wish to prune, including regular maintenance pruning and pruning for shape and form where this is desired. But other than this, you can pretty much leave this shrub to its own devices.
It is worth noting, however, that Photinia grown in containers will require more ongoing care, with more regular watering and feeding. Make sure that you use a container that is suitable – large enough and sturdy enough not to be blown or topple over when a shrub is grown in it.
One final thing to mention is that you should give careful thought to what is planted around your Red Robin. These shrubs do not compete well with overly hungry or thirsty neighbours and may suffer if placed too close to particularly vigorous plants.
Surrounding the Photinia with smaller, slow-growing plants that mesh well with the colourful foliage of the ‘Red Robin’ is best.
Some examples of good neighbours for a Red Robin shrub include variegated Euonymous cultivars, Hebe ‘Rhubarb and Custard’, and, on acidic sites, small Japanese Acers, and Pieris, perhaps with ground cover of Pachysandra terminalis ‘Variegata’ underneath.
A permaculture garden designer, sustainability consultant and freelance writer, Elizabeth works as an advocate for positive change. She aims to inspire others to reconnect with nature and live in a more eco-friendly way. She also tries to practice what she preaches as she tends her own forest garden, polyculture beds and polytunnel. See her personal website here.