Red robin revival

Credit: Flickr / miluz

Q: Our Photinia fraseri is losing leaves, both the green ones and the new red growth. From a distance the bush looks great – about 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, but almost every leaf has a black spot on it. We have a clay soil that I have tried to alter with compost and sand. Could you tell me how to fix this problem? Or what other alternative there is? Is there any other evergreen that would be happier in the soil? Thank you for your help.

The problem is physiological leaf spot, which is most likely caused by the plant growing in heavy soil. If possible, dig out the Photinia and replant onto a mound of good topsoil (at least 45 cm or 18 in. tall by 1 m or 40 in. wide) to allow the plant to grow in a more stress-free situation. Other plant substitutes may include Oregon grape (Mahonia spp.),  Japanese laurel (Aucuba cv.), Mexican orange (Choisya cv.), false holly (Osmanthus x burkwoodii), and firethorn (Pyracantha cv.). Plant selection may be limited due to minimum winter temperature, light exposure, duration of soil moisture, visual aesthetics, or other factors.