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Don’t be put off by the thought that photinias can grow to 5m high and wide in about eight years. With regular pruning and good care, growing photinias in pots or containers is possible and not too difficult.
You can also get varieties like photinia ‘little red robin’ and photinia pink marble that grows well in pots too as they are smaller growing varieties growing as little as 1 meter tall.
What photinia to grow in pots?
The most popular photinia is photinia Red Robin. This is the variety that has red shoots and leaves in spring, changing to green leaves with red tips in summer. Although it grows quickly to over 5m tall, with pruning you can keep it to a reasonable shape and size (90cm to 120cm) for growing in pots.
Alternatively, look for have photinia Little Red Robin. This is a smaller and more low-growing variation of photinia, with the same impressive appearance but with smaller leaves and only growing to 1m x 1m.
Finally, I’m a fan of photinia ‘pink marble’ which grows less aggressively than photinia red robin but still has the larger leaves but with cream marbled edges whereas ‘little red robbin’ has the same leaves as photinia red robin but much smaller leaves.
Choose the photinia’s pot
To grow photinias in pots, you do need to have a large container. Start with one that’s about 45cm in diameter. This gives the plant plenty of room to grow. Ceramic or terracotta containers are usually heavy enough to not let the shrub topple over. If you choose a plastic pot, make sure to put stones in the bottom to weigh it down.
But before you do that, turn the container over and check how many drainage holes are drilled into the bottom of it. Photinias aren’t too fussy about their growing conditions (sun, soil, watering etc.). However, they don’t like to be in waterlogged soil. You may need to create more drainage holes in the container yourself. This is easier to do in plastic pots. Just place some broken pots or stone over the drainage holes to prevent them from becoming blocked.
Placing the pot in just the right place
Photinias can grow in sun or partial shade. They can even survive in full shade but don’t do their best there and from personal experience have found they seem to be more at risk from leaf spot in shady positions. Move your pot to the place where it’s going to reside, before you fill it with soil.
The right soil mix to grow photinias in pots
Fill the photinia container with a good quality multi-purpose compost mix or a loam soil such as those from John Innes. Make sure that whatever soil type you use isn’t clumpy. I personally always go for John Innes potting compost as it retains moisture better and is heavy so helps keep the plant and pot upright.
Plant the photinia
Create a well in the soil in the pot and place the young photinia plant there. Make sure that the top of the soil of the potted plant is at the level of the top of the soil in the new container. Backfill the remainder of the hole with the same soil or compost that you put in the new container. Pat it down to make it firm around the root of the photinia.
Water the photinia in
Water the plant thoroughly when you’ve finished. Wait until the top 3cm of the soil is dry before you water it again. I believe that they do better when the soil is not allowed to dry out. I usually keep mine well-watered and only water once the surface of the soil is dry. To dry and the plant will become stressed and more at risk from diseases and leaf drop which I have talked about here.
Tips for successfully growing photinias in pots
After the first one or two years, prune the plant annually to keep it in shape (and size) and to encourage it to grow strongly.
Remember that plants grown in containers dry out faster than those in the ground. Check the dryness of the soil in the pot regularly and water as needed.
Overwinter the potted photinia by moving it to a place sheltered from the cold wind. Place mulch over the soil and wrap the pot in some lagging or cover the plant in fleece if very cold weather is forcasted.
You can propagate photinia by taking softwood or semi-softwood cutting which I have covered in this guide on how to take photinia cuttings.
And what if something goes wrong?
Refer to my article Photinia Pests and Diseases to find out about the kinds of problems these shrubs can have and what to do about them.