Caring For Camellias: Tips On Growing A Camellia Plant
By: Teo Spengler
Camellias are dense shrubs with brilliant foliage. They offer bright, long-blooming flowers, and serve as popular foundation and specimen plants. Read on for more information on camellia planting and care.
How to Care for a Camellia Plant
Camellias have a reputation as being demanding and picky plants, but much depends on how they are planted. If you take the time to plant this shrub appropriately, your camellia plant maintenance will be significantly reduced.
Camellias require acidic soil that drains well. Test the soil first to be sure the pH is between 6 and 6.5 before you begin installing the plant.
While you are digging, work in several inches of organic material to ensure nutrients and adequate drainage. Plant your shrub in a shady area with dappled sunshine, not in direct sun. These preliminary steps make caring for camellias easier.
Camellia Planting and Care
When you are planting your camellia, install it slightly higher than the surrounding soil. This allows excess water to drain away from the center of the plant. Don’t plant this shrub where it will have competition for nutrients. For example, don’t plant it beneath a tree with shallow roots, like a birch.
Caring for camellias will include water and fertilizer. Nobody could call young camellias drought-resistant. When you are first growing a camellia plant, it will require regular and generous irrigation until the root system is established.
Water young shrubs deeply to encourage the root system to spread downward. Once the tree is mature, it needs less water. In time, you may not have to irrigate at all.
Camellias do not do well with a lot of fertilizer, so don’t overuse it. Once the shrub has finished blooming, broadcast a balanced fertilizer for acid-loving plants around the plant’s drip line. Irrigate well.
Additional Camellia Plant Maintenance
You’ll find two primary species of camellias in American gardens: japonica and sasanqua camellias. The latter are hardier and tougher than the japonicas, tolerating drought and resisting disease better. Both require a little pruning, however, to maintain their beauty.
These species should be pruned at different times. Since japonicas bloom in early spring, they should be pruned immediately after the flowers fade.
Sasanquas flower in autumn, forming flower buds in spring. Prune them in early spring to avoid snipping off flowers. A light shaping is all you need, snipping off branch tips to encourage fullness.
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Camellia Care and Planting Tips
Camellias have much to offer a shade landscape area these shrubs feature year-round glossy, dark green foliage and display stunning single or double blooms in the winter. There are thousands of camellia hybrids, offering a large palette of colors from white and bi-colors to the deepest red.
There are large varieties, which can be formed into small trees or lower growing shrub types. Two main species of camellia are used here in Arkansas sasanqua camellias bloom in the late fall to early winter and have smaller leaves and flowers. Japonica camellias bloom in the late winter or early spring and typically have larger leaves. There are also hybrids of cultivars on the market with desirable characteristic like cold hardiness. The later bloom season of japonicas make them more susceptible to a late frost. However, the large, multi-petaled flowers make the risk worth it! Camellias have a variety of uses in the landscape, including specimen plants, hedges and screens as well as container plantings.
Caring for Camellias
Camellia care is pretty simple plant in a shade to part sun area (morning sun, afternoon shade) with rich soil. As the plants mature and the canopy provides shade to roots, they can take more sun. Camellias like ample moisture and well-drained soil. Water during dry conditions to encourage new growth. Camellias do not grow well when planted too deep. Plant 1-2 inches above surrounding grade, gently sloping soil up to the sides of the exposed root ball. Do not cover the root ball with soil mulch around the plant, with a thin layer over the root ball water well after planting.
Prune to shape camellias as needed prune selectively instead of shearing to maintain natural shape of the plants. Remove no more than one third of the plant at any one time. Thin dense branching when the foliage could be reducing room for flowers to properly open. Shortening lower branches will encourage a more upright growth pattern. Cut back leggy top growth to encourage a fuller plant form. Pruning should be done after the chance of frost has past in the spring and flowers have faded. Camellias set flower buds in late summer so pruning at the wrong time of year will significantly reduce blooming.
Camellias like acidic soil conditions, which we tend to have in central Arkansas. Using a fertilizer for acid loving plants such as camellia/ azalea food after blooming will both provide necessary nutrients and help the soil retain the proper pH. Plant in soils with pH range of 5.5 to 6.5. If soil pH is incorrect, this may affect the ability of the camellia to absorb fertilizer.
We carry Evergreen/Azalea Food with Systemic Insecticide, which can also help with scale. Here in the southeastern United States, it is recommended that camellias be fertilized in March, May and early July. Rake the mulch back to the drip line of the plant, and apply the fertilizer directly to the soil. Water thoroughly after application. A pH test is always suggested when plants have specific needs we have simple test kits available. With any fertilizer, read and follow instructions carefully.
Watch for These Symptoms on Camellias
These popular blooming evergreens are susceptible to scale. Treating with dormant oil and yearly with systemic insecticide soil drench can take care of this issue. The fertilizer suggested above also contains a systemic insecticide works well to control scale. Yellowing leaves might indicate a lack of iron. Test pH and adjust if it’s over 6.5. Treating with an iron supplement may be necessary.
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Camellias are generally planted in the late fall through the early spring, although they may be set out any month of the year if properly cared for.
Choose a Site
Choose a planting site with well-drained soil. Do not plant where shade trees with shallow root systems will compete with camellias for nutrients and water. Plants in the sun may suffer scald on the leaves or leaves may appear yellow rather than deep green. Plants of Camellia sasanqua generally do better in the sun than those of C. japonica.
Camellias will grow in most well-drained slightly acid soil. A soil pH (degree of acidity or alkalinity) of 6.0 - 6.5 is considered best for camellias. However, they will tolerate a lower pH.
A soil test made before planting will tell you what is needed to bring the soil to the desired pH and fertility level. Practically all soils will benefit from the addition of organic matter when planting. Two to four inches of peat moss, leaf mold, ground aged bark, sawdust or cow manure worked into the soil improves both the drainage and fertility of the soil.
Camellias are generally planted in the late fall through the early spring, although they may be set out any month of the year if properly cared for. Adequate moisture is a necessity until the roots become well established in the soil. The newly developed roots will then provide enough moisture for the plant to start growth when spring arrives.
Allow a minimum of five feet between plants, and preferably more. When planting a hedge, a distance of three feet between plants is recommended.
The following steps should be followed when planting a camellia.
- Dig a hole at least two feet wider than the root ball.
- Leave soil in the center of the hole undisturbed to prevent settling.
- Place the rootball on a the column of soil in the center of the hole.
- The top of ball should be slightly above soil level.
- When planting a container-grown plant, wash away the soil from the root ball with a water hose and rough up the root ball, if tight, to allow better penetration into the soil.
- Fill the hole around the root ball with a mixture of topsoil and organic matter.
- Build a berm of soil around the plant three feet in diameter to prevent water from running off.
- Mulch with straw or other organic matter around the plant.
- Water well after planting and soak once a week during dry weather.
The State Extension Service no longer recommends the addition of organic matter to the backfill soil. Research has shown that this does not improve plant growth. They now recommend digging a wide hole and refilling with the removed soil.
Plant and care for camellia
The genus camellias comprises about 300 species as well as countless varieties and hybrids. They all belong to the tea leaf family (Theaceae). The Chinese camellia (Camellia sinensis) is a thousand-year-old cultivated plant in East Asia – for over 4,000 years, green tea and fermented black tea have been extracted from its leaves. In addition to the tea plant itself, there are other camellias that are extremely popular as ornamental shrubs because of their beautiful large flowers. The most famous camellia species is the Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica). It was discovered in 1735 by the Swedish plant researcher Carl von Linné and named after Georg Joseph Kamel, a Moravian-Austrian Jesuit priest and naturalist who described the plant world of the Philippines for the first time.
The first camellias probably arrived in Europe in the 16th century – curiously enough mainly due to the efforts of the European states to import the precious tea plants. In China the optically very similar ornamental camellias were often declared as tea camellias because the country wanted to protect its monopoly in tea cultivation at that time. As a result, camellia was already a very popular garden plant in England in the middle of the 18th century, but tea was still sourced from East Asia.
Appearance and growth
Camellia has evergreen, alternate, mostly elliptic leaves with dark green upper and light green undersides. The flowers bear striking yellow stamens in the centre. They remind a little of the flowers of peonies and can reach a diameter of up to 15 centimetres depending on the variety. In autumn the camellia produces seeds in the form of capsule fruits. The loosely growing, mostly upright shrubs grow up to four metres high in mild regions of the garden. At their natural sites there are camellias up to 11 metres high and over 1,000 years old.
Location and substrate
In the open, camellias are classic solitary shrubs. They grow best in shady areas, even under larger trees, as long as they do not have intolerant roots. They can be combined with rhododendrons, carpet dogwoods and other woody plants and shrubs that have similar soil requirements. Due to their origin, they are also well suited as solitary shrubs for Japanese gardens. The plants feel at home in the tub on sunny terraces and balconies. But they also grow well in unheated conservatories.
From spring to winter, camellias stand optimally in a pot in a wind-protected, semi-shade place on the terrace. In summer they can also tolerate a little more sun with a good water supply. A good exposure is the prerequisite for the camellias to create many new flower buds.
Commercially available rhododendron soil is suitable as a substrate as it contains hardly any lime and has a correspondingly low pH value. If you want to make your own camellia soil, simply mix six parts of white peat with one part each of green compost, expanded clay, sand and bark compost. The ideal period for repotting camellias is between May and July. If the root ball of the pot is already strongly rooted, you can also repot the plants in autumn. This gets them better than if they had to spend the rest of the season in too small a pot.
If the soil is loamy, dig a very large planting hole and fill it with deciduous humus or special rhododendron soil before using the camellia. A drainage layer of lime-free gravel or chippings at the bottom of the planting hole protects against waterlogging. When cultivating in pots, a sufficiently large plant pot and good drainage are also essential.
Camellias, like almost all evergreen trees and shrubs, are cut-tolerant and can also be pruned more strongly if necessary. In mild regions of England they are even used for cut hedges. However, pruning is usually only necessary for younger plants so that they branch off well and grow into beautiful bushy plants. The best time for pruning is the spring before the start of the new shoot.
Avoid strong temperature fluctuations and dry heating air shortly before the flowering period, as many varieties then discard their flower buds. Water the camellia exclusively with rainwater or demineralised tap water and repot young potted plants about every two years after flowering. The root ball of your camellias should always be moist, but not stagnantly wet, as the fine roots of the plants die very quickly. Keep the plants dry from October: Remove the coaster and water only when the surface of the root ball is dry. Camellias tolerate rainwater best because, like rhododendrons, they react very sensitively to high lime contents in irrigation water. If the air humidity is low, for example in heated winter quarters, but also in summer on the terrace, you should occasionally spray the leaves with rainwater.
Commercially available mineral long-term fertilizers for rhododendron (e.g. Osmocote rhododendron fertilizers) or organic rhododendron fertilizers with guano are suitable as fertilizers for camellias. As soon as the new shoots become visible, you should spread the fertilizer on the pot balls. Since camellias have a high nitrogen requirement, but are also very sensitive to salt, it is best to halve the fertiliser recommended on the package. The long-term fertilizer dissolves over time and provides the camellia with all the necessary nutrients for several months. If you use organic rhododendron fertilizers, you will usually need to top up a little at the beginning of May. Alternatively, you can supply your camellias with liquid fertilizer for green plants every two to three weeks until the end of June. Conventional balcony flower fertilizer is less suitable because it contains too little nitrogen and too much phosphate. Halve the recommended dose for green plant fertilizers as well.
When hibernating camellias there are a few points to keep in mind. In this country camellia is mostly cultivated as a tub plant. It grows in winter-mild regions such as the Upper Rhine Graben and the coastal region also in the open, but then needs a protected location and must be provided in winter with a thick mulch layer and shaded with a fleece, otherwise the winter sun lets the leaves dry. Potted plants that have grown in well can tolerate frost to around -5 degrees Celsius without winter protection, outdoor plants with fleece cover to around -15 degrees Celsius. Late frost is usually the biggest problem for garden camellias, because the young shoots die off immediately at sub-zero temperatures.
A heated living room is not the ideal winter location for camellias. There the splendour of flowers is usually over after only a few days. The Williamsii cultivars, in particular, show flaccid petals when the temperature is too high, even when the flowers bloom. They are much better kept in a cold house or a weakly heated conservatory at temperatures up to a maximum of 15 degrees Celsius. Basically you should leave your camellia outside as long as possible in winter. Only from -5 degrees Celsius can the move to the winter quarters no longer be delayed. If you can’t offer your camellias optimal winter quarters (too warm and too dark), it’s best to put the plants back outside as soon as the frost period is over. By the way: Camellias need the cool temperatures, because the cold stimulus ensures that the flower buds open. The flowers can be kept at six to ten degrees ambient temperature for up to five weeks.
Important species and varieties
Nowadays, in addition to the varieties of Japanese camellia and the scented camellia (Camellia sasanqua), which already blooms in autumn, there is an unmanageably large number of hybrids with a wide variety of flowers, some of which are even multicoloured. Their ancestors all come from Asia. In this country, the garden shapes thrive as potted plants on the terrace without any problems. Some varieties are also suitable as garden plants in mild regions. In colder regions, the so-called Camellia Oleifera hybrids have proven their worth, which – provided with some winter protection – can withstand outdoor temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius. The varieties to be mentioned here include ‘Polar Ice’ (upright, medium-strong growth, white flowers), ‘Winter’s Dream’ (loosely upright growth, pink, semi-double flowers) and ‘Fire N Ice’ (compact growth, dark orange-red flowers).
Camellias can be propagated by cuttings. Depending on the species and variety, head cuttings, shoot cuttings, leaf cuttings or knot cuttings are used. If possible, however, you need a cultivation box with floor heating and a bright, semi-shade location. It can also take several months for the first roots to form. Some camellias, such as the Japanese camellia, also form seeds in our latitudes, which can be used for propagation and must also be kept warm. Professional gardeners usually multiply camellias by grafting.
Diseases and pests
In the winter-quarter, shield and wool-lice occasionally appear at the camellia . Typical fungal diseases are camellia death and Phyllosticta leaf spot disease. The camellia plague is highly infectious and very difficult to fight. It manifests itself through a brownish-red discoloration of the flowers, which usually begins in the middle of the flower, often accompanied by a mould-like coating. Light-flowered varieties are particularly susceptible.
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.
One thing to note…most of my Camellias have some buds that fail to open and just drop off the plants. I always wondered if I was missing something in my Camellia care that was causing this…so I decided to find out.
According to the Clemson University Camellia Guide, this could be caused by not enough water in the summer (entirely possible some years around here).
But it is also a normal phenomenon with Camellias. Apparently, many of them set more buds than they can open, and the rest just fall off.
Graceful shrubs with small glossy leaves and mostly single flowers though there are a few semidouble and double sorts. They bloom from October into December in the lower South. There are about a hundred varieties that have originated in the United States or have been imported from Japan, where they are regarded highly as ornamental shrubs and where many kinds have been selected. They are somewhat more resistant to low temperatures than the japonicas. Among the best of these are: Cleopatra, semidouble, chromatic rose-bengale Hebe, single with reflexed petals, solferino purple Hinode-gumo, single to semidouble, large white, margined rose-bengale Mino-no-yuki, semidouble, white, abundant flowering Pink Snow, incomplete double, small, rhodarninepink Showa-no-skae, irregular double, rhodamine-pink.