How to Grow: Camellia

Sun Requirements
Part shade or dappled shade

Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Depending on the species they bloom either in winter/early spring or fall

Mature Height x Spread
6 to 15 feet tall and 5 to 7 feet wide, but there are varieties as small as 2 feet tall and as large as 20 feet tall

Camellia is a prized evergreen shrub or tree that brightens a shady area in your landscape with beautiful rose-shaped flowers. Camellias are hardy in USDA zones 7 to 10 with a few varieties tolerant of Zone 6 winters. There are two common species of camellia. C. Japonica blooms in winter and early spring and C. Sasanqua, blooms in fall and early winter. The sasanqua camellias are hardier, more drought-tolerant and disease-resistant than the Japonica types and some even tolerate full sun. Both are related to the tea plant (C. sinensis) from which our beverage comes.

The flower colors and shapes vary depending on the variety. The colors include white, pink, red, variegated and yellow. The blooms can be single or double and some can reach 5 inches in diameter. The evergreen, glossy foliage makes this an attractive landscape plant even when it’s not in bloom.

Although slow growing, these shrubs can eventually turn into small trees, some with a pyramidal shape. They are striking as foundation plants, specimens in a lawn or as hedge plants mixed with other shrubs.

When, Where and How to Plant
Plant camellia in USA zone 8 to 10 gardens in fall to avoid the heat of summer. In zone 6 and 7 gardens, plant in spring so the plant can get established before winter. In both cases, plant on well-drained soil.

Plant nursery bought shrubs in a hole dug three times the diameter of the root ball. Remove the plant from the pot and wash off the potting soil revealing the root system. Prune off any circling or errant roots and plant, add water and the native soil to the hole. Keep camellias well watered through the first year.

Growing Tips
Camellia are best planted in part sun or somewhere with afternoon shade. This is especially true of young plants. As they age, camellia plants get more sun tolerant. The leaves shade the roots keeping the soil cool.

Camellia likes rich, well-drained soil that stays moist, but not soggy. Plant camellia so water drains away from the trunk. Camellias grows best in slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6 and 6.5. Add sulfur to the soil to lower the pH, based on a soil test.

Keep the plants well watered the first few years. By year 3 camellias should be established enough to not need supplemental watering unless it’s very dry. Mulch around the base of camellias. Camellias have shallow roots that can dry out. Mulch helps preserve the soil moisture.

When growing dwarf varieties in container, add about 50% organic matter mixed with 50% potting soil and be sure the container has good water drainage holes.

Plant Care
Prune winter and spring blooming camellias after they are finished flowering. Deadhead spent blooms as they brown to keep the shrub tidy and the new flowers coming. Prune the fall and winter blooming camellias in early spring to stimulate more new growth and eventually more flowers in fall.

Fertilize camellias after they finished flowering in winter or spring. Camellias don’t need much fertilizer to grow well. Apply a product recommended for camellia and azaleas for best growth and flowering.

To stimulate fewer, but larger flowers, debud flower buds when small in the interior of the shrub allowing the buds on the outside of the shrub to grow bigger. Cut some open flowers to float in water indoors.

Clean up fallen spent flowers to reduce the incidence of foliage diseases on your camellias. Sprays horticultural oil for scale insects on the branches. If the leaves yellow, check the pH to make sure it’s correct for camellias. While some flower bud drop is natural, if excessive it may be due to cold weather or overwatering.

Companion Planting and Design
Camellia can be grown along buildings, in island beds with other shrubs and trees, as an informal hedge or even in containers. Their evergreen foliage gives them lots of versatility in the yard.

Choose companion plants that bloom at the same time as your camellia such as rhododendrons, azaleas, witchhazel, forsythia and magnolias or some that provide a complimentary look such as Japanese maples and ornamental grasses. Understory flowers to grow with camellias include hellebores, spring bulbs and hosta.

Varieties
There are many hybrid varieties of camellias to choose from in the nursery. Select varieties hardy for your area and based on plant size and bloom time. For Japonica species try ‘Pink Perfection’, ‘Daikagura’ (white), and ‘Kramer’s Supreme’ (red). For Sasanqua types try ‘Shishi Gashira’ (pink), ‘Yuletide’ (red), and ‘Hana Jiman’ (white). ‘Fairy Bush’ is unusual because it has a fragrance. ‘Marge Miller’ is a trailing camellia.

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