Crazy About Camellias
A flowering shrub or tree can add a splash of color to any landscape, but when that plant happens to be a camellia, it's more like a tidal wave of bright blooms. Lots of new things are happening in the world of camellias, including more cold-hardy varieties, and new fragrances and colors.
Camellias are well-bred and regal shrubs and a shady garden is their kingdom. "Every year, new varieties come out, and I always want to have the new stuff," says Jim Randall.
Some new varieties of camellias are actually genetic mutations. This, for example, is a camellia from the Elegans family, which loves to sport or mutate. A sport is a mutation. Once a variety mutates, breeders try to propagate that sport and create a whole new camellia.
For example, this 'Chandleri Elegans' sported this 'Elegans Supreme'.
An observant breeder grafted it onto a variegated under-stock, or root system, to produce 'Variegated Elegans'. 'Elegans Variegated' eventually sported 'C. M. Wilson', which sported 'Elegans Splendor', which sported 'Elegans Champagne'.
For propagation, Randall uses two fairly simple methods — cutting and grafting. "To reproduce camellia through cutting, first we need a snip of a plant that we would like to reproduce," says Randall.
But if you want your camellia blooming sooner, Randall recommends crafting a graft. "This is my preference because you can have a blooming plant usually within two years, whereas a cutting may take three or four years."
- Cut the right length of the cutting, and then cut the leaves in half. Bevel two sides of the stem to expose the scion's cambium layer.
- Cut off the under-stock. According to Randall, the larger the under-stock is, the faster your scion is going to grow.
- Next, make a little cut across the top of the under-stock to set the scion in. Randall uses a screwdriver to open the slit and fit the scion into.
- Line the green up on both the under-stock and the scion to ensure a take. Stretchy grafting tape wrapped around the take will keep things snug. Paint some fungicide around the union with a paintbrush to prevent mold from growing. To keep humidity up in this graft, we have to construct a mini-greenhouse, and the best thing to use is a one-gallon jar. All you have to do is insert the jar upside down over your graft.
- If you're into growing these beauties but space is an issue, there are several miniature camellias that do quite well on a porch in a pot. "You need a very good draining soil — that's very important — and you also need the right exposure," Randall says. "Eastern exposure or filtered shade is the best."
Tip: Don't compost your camellia blooms because they're susceptible to a fungal disease known as petal blight. Most compost piles won't heat up enough to kill the fungus so to be on the safe side, go ahead and trash them.