GARDENING WE ARE at the time of year when we should be planting trees and thinking about shrubs for the future — but homework is vital.
It is very easy to create a monster although some shrubs are easier to control than others.
One shrub not to be wary of is photinia. It is a popular evergreen shrub with glossy green leaves, white flowers and young red shoots and leaves.
The best known of the photinias is photinia × fraseri red robin, which is often planted as a specimen shrub or as a fast-growing, dense evergreen hedge.
For three fifths of the year it is inconspicuous and, for that reason, often overlooked.
Once established, it is a fast grower but easily contained with judicious pruning.
I planted just one to soften a brick wall nine or ten years ago. Today, it has done the job wonderfully.
It is so successful in nearly all soils and settings, it is definitely on the list as a softener to boundaries when the time comes to extend the patio and erect new fences.
For bigger spaces, bigger trees are needed. Robinia pseudoacacia is pollution tolerant and displays fabulous autumn colour. There is also a flower bonus in May or June.
But, the catalpa family offers yet more choices of bigger, yet still compact, garden trees. With their large, heart-shaped leaves, catalpa trees make a statement wherever you plant them.
A brilliant example is catalpa bignonioides aurea, an RHS Award of Garden Merit plant. Reaching a height of between eight and 12 metres, and an eventual spread of eight metres, it isn’t a small tree. But given the space, its form, coupled with its golden yellow leaves, is a real delight.
But back to photinia. It grows in fertile, moist, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. The young shoots can become scorched if grown in an exposed position.
Photinia grows in most soils, even clay as long as it has been improved by incorporating well-rotted compost or manure. Most species will tolerate either acid or alkaline conditions but P. beauverdiana and P. villosa are not happy in a chalky soil, needing neutral to acid conditions.
Photinias require minimal pruning but will benefit from the occasional trim in spring and summer to keep them under control. Avoid trimming after mid-August since any new growth would be vulnerable to autumn frosts.
Mature leaves are a deep, glossy green but that new growth, which is now appearing, is an attractive mid red.
The Royal Horticultural Society provides this advice: "Photinia × fraseri red robin can grow up to 30cm (1ft) a year so keep it under control by shortening stems up to 15cm (6ins), cutting just above an outward-facing bud.
"If red robin is grown as a hedge, remove the tips of young shoots to encourage bright red re-growth. They can be trimmed up to three times a year.
"The deciduous P. villosa should be pruned in winter when dormant.
"P. davidiana palette is a slow-growing evergreen with variegated leaves that needs little pruning.
"If any of these photinias become overgrown, it is possible to renovate by cutting back hard to a low framework and thinning out congested shoots as they grow back."
The best method for propagating most photinia cultivars is by softwood cuttings in early summer or semi-ripe cuttings in summer and autumn, which is just what I will do for my new hedge.
You can also grow species, such as P. villosa and P. davidiana, from seed, sowing in spring.