Red tip photinias (Photinia x fraseri, USDA zones 6-9) are a staple in southern gardens where they are grown as hedges or pruned into small trees. The fresh new growth on these attractive evergreen shrubs is bright red, fading to green as it matures. In late spring and early summer, the shrub bears 6 inch (15 cm.) clusters of white flowers that are sometimes followed by red fruit. Unfortunately, the flowers have a foul odor, but the smell doesn’t seem to permeate the air or travel very far and doesn’t last long. Rejuvenating a red tip photinia is easy and can make an aging shrub look new again.
Can You Hard Prune Red Tips?
Photinia tolerates even the most severe pruning and grows back looking better than ever. The only problem with hard pruning is that the tender new growth is susceptible to scales and aphids. Keep a bottle of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil on hand and use them according to the label instructions at the first sign of insects.
Rejuvenate red tip photinia when the shrub doesn’t color up as it should or when it looks overgrown, congested, or straggly with dead areas in the center. The easiest method of photinia rejuvenation is to cut back the entire shrub at one time. Photinia tolerates cutting back to about 6 inches (15 cm.) above the ground. The problem with this type of pruning is that it leaves a gap and ugly stump in the landscape. You can try hiding it with tall annuals, but if it bothers you, there is another method that isn’t as extreme.
The second way to rejuvenate red tip photinia takes three or four years, but the shrub continues to fill its place in the landscape as it regrows. Each year, cut out one-half to one-third of the stems to about 6 inches (15 cm.) above the ground. Begin with the oldest and largest stems and then cut the weak and misshapen ones. After three or four years, the shrub will be completely rejuvenated. You can continue this method of pruning after the shrub is completely rejuvenated to keep it looking fresh.