Botanical name: The botanical name for Photinia is derived from the Greek word for shining – photeinos. This is a reference to the shiny, glossy upper-leaf surface. The best-known variety is Photinia x fraseri, also known as ‘Red Robin’. The Fraser part of the name honours the 19th- century botanist Charles Fraser.

Family: Photinia is native to China and Japan, related to hawthorn and cotoneaster, and more distantly to the apple, pear and mountain ash. Several of the evergreen species show their young shoots as brownish red, or rich brown, which is an attractive feature. However, they were not very hardy, easily damaged by frost, and only for warmer countries. ‘Bermingham’, which makes a big bush with coppery red young leaves, was one of the first hardy cultivars.

Garden value

From early spring, the tips of the shoots of photinia begin to extend new leaves that open to shades of bright red, showing the same colour for months on end before finally turning to a dark-green.

The young leaves of ‘Red Robin’ are the richest red, practically a rival for pieris, and capable of growing on limey soil, which the pieris does not. The name was a great choice and brought plenty of interest. It has proved quite hardy, hardy enough to be grown in most areas. In normal winters, only the tips of the new foliage are damaged.

If you would like to plant this lovely shrub, be sure to check that its young leaves are well coloured and select the plant cultivar with the best red colour. Unnamed plants can be vigorous but floppy in growth, not as neat as the true ‘Red Robin’. There is also a cultivar named ‘Little Red Robin’ which has smaller leaves and does not grow as large.

Growing ‘Red Robin’

Generally, it is grown as a hedge, showing a fine display of red colour in spring and early summer. It can also be grown as a freestanding specimen, small tree, or as part of a shrub border, or mixed border. This ‘shrub’ is quick-growing and can reach to 5m tall and wide. This large size makes it suitable for a rural garden where there is likely to be more space. If it outgrows its space, photinia tolerates pruning very well. Like many small trees suitable for restricted areas, it can be pruned up to allow light to reach lower-layer plants.

When cut back, the resulting new growth is very decorative. But as opposed to that, when allowed to reach small tree size, the young shoots are not as showy, not least because they are up high on the tree. Their colour is not as good as the vigour of a large bush and is less than that of a young plant. The mature tree or bush produces dull white flowers in bunches like cotoneaster and it carries dark-red berries too, but these only appear when this small tree has reached 3m or so, and typically, the flowers are only plentiful after good growth the previous summer.

In the severe winter of 2009/2010, many plants of photinia suffered partial or complete leaf loss due to frost, but recovered subsequently. It grows in any ordinary soil, though it is not happy in wet ground. It tolerates a windy spot quite well but the evergreen leaves may become somewhat tatty.

Photinia is inclined to suffer loss of older leaves due to leafspot fungal disease, but usually application of general fertiliser, or poultry pellets, encourages quick re-growth.

How to avoid lawn tramlines

Most people mow the lawn in the same pattern every time. It is likely, therefore, that they follow the same tracks. Close examination of the tracks left, typically by a ride-on mower, shows that there is little or no moss growing where the wheels normally pass. Mosses cannot take the pressure of a lawnmower passing over them. Even foot traffic on a regular basis can cause moss to die.

This trampling effect can also be seen as a result of the new-style automatic mowers. Although they are just a fraction of the weight of a ride-on mower, they have a very similar result on lawn moss growth. The automatic lawnmower criss-crosses its defined mowing area continuously all day except when it docks to recharge its battery. This constant squashing of moss keeps it under control and it dies out in competition with grass. Happily, wildflowers in the lawn survive the constant cutting quite well and still manage to flower.

If you have a ride-on lawnmower, or a walk-behind lawnmower, you can clear moss by repositioning the passage of the wheels each time you mow and avoid making lawn tramlines.

This week’s reminders

Trees, shrubs and roses: Prune early summer shrubs as they go out of flower, if necessary, such as broom and weigela. Broom can be pruned by cutting back the flowered shoots to within about 5cm immediately after flowering. Otherwise, thin out shrubs rather than shorten back every branch. Control rose blackspot disease.

Lawns: Grass growth has been good. Keep the edges around kerbs and flower beds or borders trimmed to maintain a neat appearance. If you wish to control lawn weeds, good results will be achieved at this time of year. But if you prefer to have a wildflower lawn, do not use any weed control products.

Fruit, vegetables and herbs: Plant out tender vegetables such as sweetcorn, outdoor tomatoes and runner beans if not already done. It is important to keep ahead of weeds by hoeing. Sow peas and carrots. Thin out vegetables that have reached suitable size, and control weeds early. Sow seeds of the winter cabbage family.

Flowers and pots: Be sure to water the young plants immediately after planting out or potting up and every few days, until they are actively growing, unless there is heavy rain. A liquid feed will encourage rapid establishment. Watch out for slugs and snails in the first few weeks after planting and hoe weeds.

Greenhouse and house plants

Continue to feed greenhouse plants strongly and to water well. House plants can be re-potted now. Plant out tomatoes, chilli peppers, cucumbers and sweet peppers in the greenhouse soil as soon as possible, if not already done so because these need to make rapid growth now. Watch for pests.

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