Prized for their bright, coppery red new foliage, these large, handsome plants are mainly used for screening and hedges, although they can be pruned into single-trunk small trees. But consider their inherent problems before adding them to your garden. They produce flattened clusters of malodorous, white flowers in spring; the flowers are followed in fall by red or black berries that birds eat and distribute seedlings everywhere. In most of the South, they're subject to serious, disfiguring diseases. Evergreen species are injured or killed by prolonged periods of temperatures below 10F.
P. x fraseri. FRASER PHOTINIA. REDTIP. Evergreen shrub or small tree. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. A hybrid between Japanese photinia (P. glabra) and Chinese photinia (P. serratifolia), this makes up about 95% of the photinias planted in the South. The original Fraser photinia, named 'Birmingham,' was born at Fraser Nursery in Birmingham, Alabama, around 1940. Because of the shrub's fast growth to 1015 ft. tall and its bright-red new foliage to 5 in. long, it quickly became a mainstay in gardens, parks, and commercial plantings. Unfortunately, the red growth is severely susceptible to Entomosporium leaf spot in the humid Southeast. Shearing the plant into hedges to produce more red foliage just leads to more leaf spot that eventually defoliates and kills it. Fireblight and mildew attack Fraser photinia too. Arid parts of Texas are about the only places it's worth growing. 'Red Robin,' a supposedly leaf spot-resistant selection popular in Britain, has not lived up to that billing here. Does not produce berries.
P. glabra. JAPANESE PHOTINIA. Evergreen shrub from Japan. Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9. Broad, dense growth to 610 ft. tall and wide. Glossy leaves to 3 in. long emerge bright red and then change to dark green. Red berries age to black. Seldom sold in nurseries. Main claim to infamy is that, as one of the parents of Fraser photinia, it contributed the genes responsible for susceptibility to leaf spot.
P. serratifolia. CHINESE PHOTINIA. Evergreen shrub or small tree. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Broad, dense-growing Chinese native becomes an upright to rounded plant 2030 ft. tall and wide. Large leaves to 8 in. long have serrated edges when young that become smoother with age. New bronze foliage isn't as showy as that of the above two species but compensates with large, showy clusters of bright red berries that last through the winteruntil birds eat them and disperse the seeds. Tough plant that grows in sun or shade and in any soil except wet. Not susceptible to leaf spot but can get fireblight and mildew.
P. villosa. ORIENTAL PHOTINIA. Deciduous shrub or small tree. Zones US, MS; USDA 6-7. From China, Korea, Japan. Uncommon plant deserves wider use where fireblight isn't a problem. Dark green leaves, 1123 in. long, turn bright red, orange, and yellow in fall. Bright red berries ripen in fall and persist into winter. Grows 1015 ft. tall, not as wide, and is usually vase shaped and multitrunked.