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Mr. Smarty Plants - Problems with red tip photinia in San Antonio

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Sunday - March 29, 2009

From: San Antonio, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Shrubs
Title: Problems with red tip photinia in San Antonio
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have a red tip photinia that's about 20 years old and about 20 feet high--it is big! I noticed last summer the highest leaves looked droopy all the time even with deep watering and now that portion of the bush has turned brown--about 15% of the bush. Did it just experience dieback because of heat and lack of water? Now, although that portion is brown the rest of the new growth looks healthy and it is flowering. Should I just mulch and apply manure and be more diligent about watering from now on? or could it be a systemic disease? there are 2 more just like it next to it and they are fine. they are the green screen for my house and I would hate to lose that one bush. thank you!

ANSWER:

In this Mississippi State University Extension Service Red-tip Photinia Almost Eliminated, you may learn what is wrong with your plant. Here is an excerpt from that article:

"Red-tip is highly susceptible to the fungal pathogen known as Entomosporium that causes leaf spots and ultimately defoliation. The disease has all but eliminated Red-tip from the list of recommended shrubs for Southern landscapes. In fact, the disease is so widespread that one plant pathologist jokingly explained that there are two types of Red-tip, those that have the disease and those that are going to get it! So, even though newly planted Red-tip bushes may stay disease free for many years, ultimately they will succumb to the inevitable."

Frankly, we're amazed that your photinias have lived as long as they have. Even when they are not infected with the pathogen, they are not ordinarily a long-lived shrub. The fact that they grow very fast is, of course, considered an advantage when you are landscaping a new property; unfortunately, fast growing woody plants seldom live very long, have weak wood and are frequently subject to pests and diseases. 

The scientific name for this plant is Photinia x fraseri, the "x" meaning it is a hybrid. Photinia, itself, originated in China and Japan. These two facts mean that it is not a native to North America, and therefore out of our range of expertise. We can tell you a couple things we picked up in our research: The first is that mulching, watering and applying compost is probably counter-productive as that can encourage the fungi that are causing the problem. The second is that the bushes would probably profit from being severely cut back. Of course, that would diminish their use as screen plants and might not deter nor slow down the diseases that attack this plant. 

So, what to do? As noted above, at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center we are dedicated to the care and propagation of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which the plants grow naturally. You will probably want to maintain your screen plants as long as you can, but if and when they give out, we suggest you replace them with some excellent evergreen screen plants native to Central Texas, and much less disease-prone.  We will list some of these, you can follow the plant links to the individual page for each plant, and learn what height they can be expected to reach, how hardy they are, etc. 

Evergreen screen plants for Central Texas

Ilex vomitoria (yaupon)

Leucophyllum frutescens (Texas barometer bush)

Rhus virens (evergreen sumac)

Morella cerifera (wax myrtle)


Ilex vomitoria

Leucophyllum frutescens

Rhus virens

Morella cerifera

 

 

 

 

 

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