Red tip photinia (including Red Robin) growth rate, height, spread: a complete guide plus FAQ


red tip photinia growth

Fraser’s photinia – the evergreen better known as red tip, red tipped or red top photinia, grows vigorously and displays its new leaves in a striking red. These turn within weeks into a lustrous copper or green. The most popular cultivar is ‘Red Robin’, also known as Christmas Berry.

But as with any tree or shrub, it’s important to know what to expect so that you plant the ‘right tree in the right place’! So how quickly, and how big, do they grow, and what affects this growth?

As a general rule, red tip photinia gains 1 to 3 feet in height per year, eventually growing to around 15 feet in height and width. The popular cultivar ‘Red Robin’ grows slightly more slowly on average, at around 1 foot per year, but reaches a similar size. Numerous factors affect the growth rate.

It’s a popular aesthetic choice, but also one for those who want a privacy hedge, windbreak or just a standalone tree that provides interest all year round.

I have several red tip photinia growing around my property, so I have developed a reliable sense of their growth – but I also have a large library of books about trees and shrubs, and I’ve consulted the experts and explored the consensus from as many angles as possible. Accuracy and reliability are of the utmost importance in my blog posts.

How fast do red tip photinia grow?

Red tip photinia is a moderate to fast growing shrub or small tree, expected to gain 1 to 3 feet (30-90cm) of height per year. The popular cultivar ‘Red Robin’ is slower-growing on average, typically putting on 1 foot (30cm) of height yearly.

How tall do red tip photinia get?

Red tip photinia, including the cultivar ‘Red Robin’, usually grow into a large bush of around 15 feet in height; that is about one and a half stories of a house.

There’s another common-enough cultivar that I should mention called Little Red Robin. It sounds like a character from a fairy tale, but it’s actually a miniature version of the standard Red Robin. It grows at a similar rate, but doesn’t get much bigger than 1 meter in height and spread.

The cultivar ‘pink marble’ grows taller at around 1 foot per year, and to around 15 feet in height, but tends to have a narrower habit, eventually reaching 6 feet wide.

mature red tip photinia size shape
A mature, unshaped red tip photinia

Growth table – red tip photinia

Years plantedOverall increase in height – lower estimate (ft)Overall increase in height – upper estimate (ft)
113
226
339
4412
5515
6618
Red tip photinia tends to gain 1 to 3 feet in height each year.

Growth table – Photinia x Fraseri ‘Red Robin’

The most popular cultivar of red tip photinia grows at about a foot per year.

Years plantedOverall increase in height (ft)
11
22
33
44
55
66
The most popular cultivar of red tip photinia, Red Robin, grows at approximately 1 foot per year.

So that’s actually pretty big for most yards and gardens. This should warn you that unless it’s growing in a large space, some pruning will definitely be needed – read on!

How wide do red tip photinia get?

In general, red tip photinia will spread out about as wide as they do tall, or around 13 feet (14 meters). That’s about one and a half times the width of a parking space.

It can be trained into a tree quite readily by cutting back all of the lower branches as it grows, leaving a clear trunk. In my view, this is a good option if your red tip is growing as a standalone feature in your property. It looks great and it won’t take up as much space at ground level.

Photinia x fraseri red tip height and spread
Note the size of the mature red tip photinia, related to the lane

What affects the growth of red tip photinia? And how do I make it grow faster?

This shrub is quite forgiving and tolerant to most conditions, but some factors are at play.

Water availability

Red tips are fairly drought-intolerant – they grow poorly unless they receive adequate water.

Sunlight

Red tip photinia needs at least partial sunlight to grow healthily. This typically means at least 6 hours per day.

Temperature

Red tip photinia grows best in USDA hardiness zones 7-9, meaning those parts where the ‘average annual minimum winter temperature’ ranges between 0 to 5 °F (-17.8 to -15 °C) and 25 to 30 °F(-3.9 to -1.1 °C).

You can check where you are on the USDA plant hardiness map here.

Practically this means Photinia x Fraserii will grow reasonably as expected throughout the USA apart from the northernmost states, and will grow well throughout most of the UK and Ireland and across Northern Europe.

In those colder regions (USDA 6 or below), the deep frosts will nip the branch tips, particularly the newer red leaves, while in hotter climes (USDA 10 and above), heat stress and the associated tendency to hot, dry ground mean the shrubs are a less suitable choice for your property.

Soil

This shrub is tolerant of most soil types, providing they drain easily – so its least favorite is clay soil. It likes a slightly acidic ph (5-7) best, but will grow on neutral or slight alkaline (pH 7-8) soil as well.

Outside of these ranges or in waterlogged soil, you might find your photinia appears stunted, with a less-than-expected show of red foliage, as new growth will be limited in growing season.

Check your soil’s pH if your photinia isn’t growing well. The simplest way to do this is with a home device or test kit – something every gardener should have. I’ve owned a few, and the most reliable that I’ve had are those made by Rapitest – their Luster Leaf instant meter for quick checks, and their manual kit if I also want a breakdown of the soil nutrient content. Use these affiliate links to check the price on Amazon.

Rapitest Luster Leaf pH meter
So, slightly acidic soil at the front of my house? Just right for red tip photinia!

Red tip photinia FAQs

What is the lifespan of photinia?

Photinia should live for 50 years or more, but in practice, the limiting factor is their well-known susceptibility to entomosporium leaf spot. Once infection has set in, its spread can be limited by cultural practices and use of fungicides, but complete cure is rarely possible.

Read more about this infection here.

Do red tip photinia have invasive roots?

Normally, red tip photinia do not grow large enough for their roots to be invasive. They are quite shallow, and are not expected to cause any issues with walls, paving, driveways, foundations, pipes or septic tanks.

I’ve never seen a red tip with that a root system that has caused the owner any trouble.

Is red tip photinia an invasive species?

In general, the red tip photinia is not considered an invasive species, but it is within the state of Texas. Before planting, you should check with your local extension office for advice.

Is red tip photinia toxic?

Red tip photinia is not generally considered toxic. They are not listed on the poisons database of the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or the UK’s National Poisons Information Service (NPIS).

This contrasts with other common hedging plants yew and cherry (or skip) laurel, which are both considered poisonous (read all about that here). So it’s likely to be a good choice if you have animals or little kids and are concerned.

Will fertilizer help to make red tip photinia grow faster?

There’s a good chance that adding some fertilizer will help your photinia to grow at its maximum speed. If it’s looking a bit sickly, read this article and check out my recommendations for fertilizer.

How should I prune red tip photinia?

If you have only one or two red tips, you’ll need some decent secateurs so you can prune each branch individually – it’s best not to cut through the leaves. But if you have a large hedge, you may have to resort to large hedge clippers and a rougher cut.

There are five reasons to prune red tip photinias, including ‘Red Robin’ –

  1. to control the size
  2. to encourage more of the attractive red (new) foliage to grow
  3. to stimulate a thin or leggy-looking photinia
  4. to ‘thin out’ overly bushy or tightly packed red tips, which encourages airflow, reducing the risk of entomosoporium leaf spot
  5. to cut out dead or dying leaves, or spotty leaves (meaning they have fungal infection)

More on which types of fungal infection you need to worry about in red tip photinia here.

Red tips, including ‘Red Robin’, will usually grow back well if you prune them severely, so you need not be too cautious. In fact, a heavy prune-back can revive and rejuvenate a thin red tip that lacks vigor.

So when should you prune red tip photinia?

When shaping red tip photinia, the best time to prune is during dormancy, in winter or early spring. But if your aim is to keep your photinia red, you can prune during the summer every time the red leaves have turned green, taking 6 inches off at a time.

But you should stop this in early-autumn, or any new growth you do stimulate may not have time to ‘harden off’ and will be killed off by the ensuing frosts that will soon follow in winter.

Make your cuts just above a junction where the branches divide, which encourages branching out and avoids any unattractive stumps.

I haven’t got round to making a video about pruning yet, so in the meantime, check out this one from Roger Crookes! It’s the best one out there.

Pruning red tip photinia for new growth

How far apart should red tip photinia be planted?

As a general rule, red tip photinia hedge shrubs should be placed 5 feet apart. Shrubs of the popular (and slightly slower-growing) cultivar Photinia x Fraseri ‘Red Robin’ are usually planted closer together, at 50cm apart, or two per meter.

Why not plant them closer together?

Well, gardeners might want a fast privacy screen, so if you plant them a foot apart, you’re going to get that quickly. But as we’ve outlined above, these shrubs can get 12 feet wide! Spacing them out more means the photinia won’t compete with each other for moisture, and, critically they’ll be at lower risk of entomosporium leaf spot fungus, which is the main red tip photinia killer and which is shrub is highly susceptible to.

Read more about entomosporium leaf spot in my post below, including how to prevent, identify and manage it – it’s important for all owners of red tips to be aware of.

How far from a fence should you plant red tip photinia?

You could plant a red tip photinia right next to a fence, but I’d leave one or two feet between the main stem and the fence – or even more if you’ve got the space. This is mostly so that your photinia gets slightly more sun and won’t be as crowded, which helps keep the leafs dry, which in turn helps to ward off entomosporium leaf spot.

Image attributions:

Acabashi, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Famartin, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0 US https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons

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