Camellia: How to Care for and Grow
Camellias are one of those old-fashioned wintertime treats. While other evergreen shrubs are just prized for giving the garden some much-needed structure this time of year, the camellia does double duty – flowering with bold blooms in practically every color.
This winter, plenty of these old faithful plants have suffered their share of cold damage, resulting in brown mushy flowers and curled-up leaf points. But by far, they are still worth the risk if you’re considering planting them.
This family of plants actually includes two main species long popular for the home landscape: Camellia japonica, commonly called just “camellias,” and Camellia sasanqua, better known as “sasanquas.” In general, camellias are large shrubs with big, waxy leaves and large flowers, and bloom from early winter through early spring; sasanquas, on the other hand, have smaller foliage and blooms, and flower in the fall.
Camellias are native to eastern and southern Asia but have long been associated with the South, where they are a perennial favorite. Like many plants, they were introduced to this country through Charleston, S.C. They are the state flower of Alabama, and the American Camellia Society is headquartered at Massee Lane Gardens near Fort Valley, Georgia.
With more than 3,000 varieties, blooming in a wide range of sizes, forms and colors – even multi-colored – there’s a camellia for everyone. Some plant them as specimens, while others take advantage of their thick dark evergreen foliage to make a screen. They also make great container shrubs for the patio.
Consider these points when adding one to your landscape:
Camellias can be planted at any time, ideally in fall when they don’t have to battle extreme temperatures while trying to get established. Be sure to give them well-drained soil, rich in organic matter, and partial shade to protect them from scorching afternoon sun. Trees also help shelter camellias from extreme cold.
Once established, the shrubs don’t require extra watering under normal conditions. But mulch around the plant to keep roots cool and retain soil moisture. Feed them in spring and again in midsummer with an acid-forming fertilizer.
Prune only to control size or shape, or to reinvigorate a plant. Any pruning should be done in late spring after flowering is complete.
Tea scale is common on the undersides of leaves. Also, keep an eye out for petal blight, a fungus that makes flowers turn brown and fall off, and for leaf gall, which causes leaves to turn brown and eventually drop as well.
When the forecast calls for a hard freeze, protect the blooms on your prized camellia by covering the shrub in plastic and anchoring it to the ground with stones or bricks to trap the heat of the soil inside. Be sure to remove the plastic the next day as temperatures warm; otherwise, you may create a greenhouse effect that can scorch the plant.