Nature rarer uses yellow
Than another hue;
Saves she all of that for sunsets, -
Prodigal of blue,
Spending scarlet like a woman,
Yellow she affords
Only scantly and selectly,
Like a lover’s words.
~ Emily Dickinson, “Poems of Emily Dickinson,”1890
I always think of this Emily Dickson poem during this time of year in Southern Oregon. Nature blesses our area with climes in which lots of yellow-blooming flowers and shrubs burst upon the scene in early spring – first the daffodils and forsythia, then tulips, Oregon grape and Euphorbia, not to mention all of the shiny yellow fields of wild mustard.
Nature (and hybridization) also prodigiously provides for “blue “flowers here – grape hyacinth, violets, iris, lobelia, vinca, phlox…
Nature’s most “spendy” (flamboyant) scarlet plants in early spring in the Rogue Valley are the plum tree leaves, emerging after the pink blossoms have faded, and the leaves of the Japanese red maples, and the red-tipped new foliage on all of the Photinia hedges. Photinia (Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Tip’) is one of the most popular hedging shrubs in my neighborhood in East Medford, OR.
In Sunday’s column (April 15, 2017), I wrote about caring for Photinia shrubs, including watering, fertilizing, pruning and treating for pests. Here, I want to focus on how to rejuvenate a Photinia shrub and how to propagate Photinia cuttings. Plus, I’ve found several ideas for having a bit of “phun” with photinias. Read on!
Although Photinia shrubs will eventually grow back after a hard cutting (to about six inches from ground level), the best way to rejuvenate tired or scraggly plants is to cut back in stages. During the spring of the first year, remove all dead and inner crossed branches, and then cut back to six inches about one-third of the oldest, weakest stems. Prune the plant in the same way during the second and third years until most of the stems have been cut back by the fourth spring. Be sure to remove any diseased foliage and dispose of the leaves and stems to prevent the disease from spreading.
The best time to take cuttings from Photinia shrubs is late summer when the stems are mature enough to snap off when bent. Soft-stemmed cuttings tend to rot and otherwise have difficulty rooting. In the morning, use a sharp knife to cut a healthy 6-inch-long stem from a shrub. Make a slightly angled cut just beneath a leaf node. Dip the end of the stem cutting into a rooting compound, and then place into a 4-6-inch pot filled three-quarters full with a previously prepared and moistened growing medium, such as equal parts sand, coconut coir or peat moss, and perlite. Pack the medium around the plant so it stands up. Cover the pot and keep in a sunny location until spring. I keep rooting cuttings on heat mats set at 65-degrees F. in my greenhouse; other gardeners keep them in an unheated cold frame or sunny room indoors). It’s important to mist the cuttings a few times a week and keep the potting medium just slightly moist. Transplant rooted cuttings the following spring after first testing whether the plant has rooted by checking the bottom of the pot or lightly tugging on the plant to check for resistance.
Novel ideas for using Photinia
Most Photinia shrubs are used to create hedges, and the most popular is a red-tipped Photinia hybrid (P. x fraseri ‘Red Tip). Here is a list of other lesser-used cultivars of this popular plant:
- P. x fraseri ‘Pink Marble’ var. Cassini - a variegated hybrid with pink leaf margins. This shrub grows to 15 feet high and 8 feet wide.
- P. glabra rubens - a similarly sized shrub with smaller leaves that have the same pretty red new growth. Smaller leaves make the shrub easier to prune.
- P. glabra ‘Super Bronze’ - new growth tips are browner than red-tipped hybrids.
- P. x fraseri ‘ Curly Fantasy’ - leaves are wavy and glabrous (shiny).
- P. x fraseri ‘Little Red Robin – a compact plant that grows 3-4 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
A closely related shrub that is native to our area is the toyon or coastal sage (Heteromeles arbutifolia) shrub. It’s also called California holly or Christmas berry for its large, red berries the plant produces. Toyon is evergreen, like Photinia, and is even more drought tolerant; however, it has a more rangy growth habit and is better used as a specimen plant in a native garden.
Here are some “phun’ ways to use Photinia in your landscape:
- Use with other shrubs in a hedge, such as mock orange (Pittosporum Eugeniodes).
- Use as a specimen plant individually or in small groups.
- Use as a topiary plant (especially P. glabra rubens).