4 Alternatives For Red-Tip Photinia In The South

Wet regions in the South are not suitable for red-tip photinia.

Red Tip Photinia
Photo: sergeyryzhov / Getty Images

You're not alone if you've struggled growing red-tip photinia in your garden. One season this plant looks fine, with its signature red-tipped leaves, and the following year, after pruning, it looks diseased, with leaves covered with spots and holes. Red-tip photinia is prone to Entomosporium leaf spots in areas that receive more than 35 inches of rain annually. Here's why red-tip photinia struggles to thrive in the South and what to plant instead.

Why Red-Tip Photinia Dies In The South

Red-tip photinia (Photinia x fraseri) planted in the rainy, humid climate of the Southeast are subject to a virulent disease called Entomosporium leaf spot. The leaf spot attacks only new, bright red leaves and spreads from leaf to leaf by splashing water. Small red spots appear that grow larger and merge. They develop silvery or tan centers with dark purple borders.

emPhotinia leaf spot. Photo: agextension.org/em.

The more you trim these shrubs, the more red leaves you get as the disease spreads. Eventually, diseased leaves drop, branches die back, and the whole shrub dies. You can control leaf spots by spraying the new foliage according to label directions with a fungicide. Ultimately, replacing them with a shrub that's easy to grow in Southern climates may result in less maintenance and more enjoyment in the long run.

Red-Tip Photinia Does Well In Arid Climates

Those in southern California, west Texas, and places with similar arid climates will undoubtedly be happy to know that this disease is not a big problem in those regions. But if you live anywhere that receives more than 35 inches of rain a year, don't plant this shrub, and if you have one that's dying, here are four shrubs we recommend planting in their place.

Four Shrubs That Can Replace Red-Tip Photinia


Holly Berries on Vine
Getty/Kazam Jan / EyeEm

Versatile and dependable holly (Ilex) is always popular in Southern gardens. Depending on what you need, there's likely a holly that's just right for your environment, as there are several hundred species and hybrids to choose from.

Holly can be low, mounding shrubs, like 'Low Rider,' trees that grow more than 40 feet tall, and everything in between. Leaves come in various colors and shapes, from brilliant gold 'Touch of Gold' to variegated 'Golden Oakland' to classic, dark-green, spiky leaves with 'Robin,' 'Oakland,' or 'Christmas Jewel.'

Evergreen versions offer year-round color, while deciduous hollies, like winterberry, drop their leaves but still dazzle with bright red—or orange, pink, or gold—berries in the cold season. Most hollies are male or female—for the female plants to produce signature red berries, both sexes must be present.

  • Botanical Name: Ilex
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun, Partial Shade
  • Soil Type: Well-drained, Clay, Chalky, Loamy
  • Soil pH: Acidic (6.0 to 6.5)

Sasanqua Camellia

Yuletide Camellia Bloom
Steve Bender

Another classic, sasanqua camellias (Camellia sasanqua), are fall-blooming, flowering, evergreen shrubs that grow beautifully in Southern gardens. Sasanquas are more compact than common camellias, reaching about 10-to-12 feet tall and wide at maturity.

They love summer heat and can take full sun or light shade. Give these flowers moist, acidic, well-drained soil that contains plenty of organic matter.

Selections include the 'October Magic' series in various colors, the early-fall bloomer 'Pink Stella,' and the festive winter bloomer 'Yuletide.'

Sasanquas are not suited for the Tropical South, and in the Upper South, they need some sheltering from the cold—there are now camellia hybrids adapted to these areas that may work better.

  • Botanical Name: Camellia sasanqua
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun, Partial Shade
  • Soil Type: Well-drained, Clay, Sandy, Loamy
  • Soil pH: Acidic to Neutral (5.0 to 7.0)

Holly Osmanthus

Flower of holly olive-Osmanthus heterophyllus
Getty Images

Holly osmanthus (Osmanthus heterophyllus), also known as false holly, is an evergreen shrub with fragrant white flowers, blue-black berries, and spiky leaves. According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, it is easy to grow, tolerating many soils, heavy pruning, and little moisture or regular garden watering. Use this plant as a hedge, tall screen, or foundation planting.

Selections include variegated 'Gishiki' and the popular 'Gulftide,' a more cold-hardy shrub with deep-green glossy foliage. The 'Purpureus' variety has purplish green leaves, 'Rotundifolius' has rounded leaves, and 'Variegatus' has white-edged leaves but is less cold tolerant than others.

  • Botanical Name: Osmanthus heterophyllus
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun, Partial Shade
  • Soil Type: Well-drained, Clay, Chalky, Sandy, Loamy
  • Soil pH: Slightly Acidic to Neutral to Slightly Alkaline (5.0 to 7.5)

Japanese Cleyera

A close shot of Sakaki (Cleyera japonica). Sky and sun
Cleyera. Getty Images

If you like the look of red-tip photinia—where red new growth contrasts with a green base of leaves—Japanese Cleyera has a similar effect. Cleyera is an evergreen shrub that "produces small clusters of fragrant, creamy-white flowers in summer, followed by small, puffy dark red berries that last throughout winter," described by The New Southern Living Garden Book.

Cleyeras grow in full sun to part shade, are pest and disease-resistant, and are heat-tolerant.

Cleyera comes in a variety of sizes and colors. Selections with red tones include 'LeAnn' with maroon fall foliage, 'Bronze Beauty' with new bronze foliage, and 'Montague' with bronze and maroon new growth.

  • Botanical Name: Ternstroemia gymnanthera
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun, Partial Shade
  • Soil Type: Well-drained, Rich
  • Soil pH: Acidic (5.0 to 6.5)

How To Choose The Right Shrubs

Whatever you plant in place of the red-tip photinia, look for shrubs that will work well in your landscape and avoid invasive, disease-prone, or foul-smelling plants at the nursery.

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