Question: For safety reasons, we recently had to remove a row of trees from in front of our home. Now, our front yard and our windows are very visible from the street, and I feel that every passing car is looking in. I see beautiful red-leafed shrubs around town that should make a good barrier and am wondering what they are. In addition, are they recommended for street-front hedges?
Answer: We are sorry that you had to remove your trees. Trees become such a part of our lives, and one never really realizes how much they do for us until they are gone, and our cozy homes (and lives) are opened for the public to view.
The shrub that you describe and have likely seen around town is probably a photinia. It is often found in hedgerows, as it is a beautiful plant that produces bright red leaves on the new growth. A diligent gardener can prune a photinia into a formal hedge in almost any shape. While photinia does well with pruning, it prefers its natural state. The leaves will often develop a ragged appearance with formal pruning, so most photinias are left to a natural growth pattern.
For years, the most popular photinia was the “Birmingham.” This variety will grow 10 to 15 feet high and wide, so insure you have plenty of room around (and above and below) where you want to plant. Today, we have the “Indian Princess” and the “Red Robin” varieties available. Both are suitable for smaller spaces, reaching only about half the size of the “Birmingham.” The “Indian Princess” produces an orange-red new growth while the “Red Robin” produces your more traditional bright red leaves.
The most frequent problem we face with photinia in this area is Physiological Leaf Spot. The cause is unknown, but it does seem to be attracted to photinia. The symptoms are similar to those of early fungal leaf infections but actually cause little damage to the plant, other than some leaf drop. Leaves will exhibit red to purple spots but not develop the dark centers found with a fungus. Chemical sprays are ineffective. Luckily, with a little planning prior to planting, the leaf spot threat can be addressed.
Do not plant them in low-lying areas where the cold air settles. Photinias love full sun, so keep them away from shady areas. There is often a tendency to want to plant them closer together to create a denser hedgerow in a shorter amount of time. Here, patience is the key. Do not crowd your plants, and keep them pruned to allow light and air circulation on the leaves. Lastly, purchase healthy plants. A healthy plant is less likely to become infected and can recover from any injury more quickly.
The most threatening problem in photinia is also a leaf spot, but this, as mentioned above, is from a fungus. The fungus overwinters in diseased leaves or dead leaves on the ground. Water splashing on the leaves will spread the spores from the fungus.
Managing the fungus is similar to the Physiological Leaf Spot. Plant so that they get plenty of light and air circulation and are not overcrowded. Remove and destroy all fallen leaves and insure that irrigation does not splash onto the leaves. Fungicides work to control this leaf spot when applied in early spring to the young shoots when evidence of infection has been determined.
Planting photinia is similar to other woody plants. Remove the turf (grass) from the area where you want to establish your hedgerow. Woody plants will be in competition with grasses for the available moisture. As the grass roots are nearer to the surface, they will usually win out, and your woody plants will suffer from a lack of water.
From a water conservation standpoint, remember that newly planted shrubs and trees require a lot of water to establish their root systems. If you wait until fall to plant your hedgerow, Mother Nature will provide most of the needed water. Planting now will require you to do frequent and deep watering until the fall rains come.
Regardless of when you plant, put on about a three-inch layer of organic mulch, starting about 6 inches out from the trunk and extending several feet past the projected canopy. A mulch will help to reduce the evaporation and slow runoff from around your plant. Mulch will also serve as a warning barrier to reduce the chance of damage to the trunks caused by lawn mowers and other equipment.
Do you have a gardening question? Please e-mail, call or visit the Douglas County Master Gardeners Plant Clinic at firstname.lastname@example.org, 541-236-3052 or 1134 S.E. Douglas Ave., Roseburg (1 p.m. to 4 p.m.).