Camellias, The Real Winners in the Garden
Bob Tanem in the Garden
Camellias are one of the greatest warriors in the shade to semi-shade garden. They have fewer problems than most any other plant with which I am familiar. Some factoids you may wish to know follow: Tea is made from camellia leaves (Camellia sinensis). It can be grown in California in full sun and does have a fall bloom. It makes a great evergreen hedge. It grows to 15 feet and as wide. Camellia reticulata can grow to 50 feet and in China is grown as an ornamental shade tree. Many varieties can have spectacular blooms that reach 10 to 15 inches across. Camellia sasanqua, unlike Japonicas, can grow in full sun and make a great blooming hedge. Variety Yule Tide blooms at Christmas time and can give bright red blooms to the holiday.
There are thousands of hybrids of all varieties. You may have even tried to grow seed from your own plant and wondered if they would ever bloom. Be aware it takes seven years from seedling to flower. Most camellias are propagated from cuttings from a mother plant so are always true to form. December thru February are the best times to select plants because they are in bloom at that time. The selection is best at that time as well.
The care of camellias is fairly simple, which is one of the reasons for their popularity. They need well drained soil, regular watering, fertilizer, (there are a ton of organic as well as chemical fertilizers available) shelter from harsh dry winds, and only modest pruning. Camellias need regular watering to maintain their proper health. I have seen older plants that thrive on very little, if any, water. These exist in old homes and are normally 10 to 15 years old. Mostly in the care of camellias you get what you pay for. The better care, the more spectacular the bloom.
If you are planning to create a landscape that includes camellias, it is a good idea to do some research before making your purchase. Camellia japonicas bloom from late winter thru early spring. A shopping trip every couple of weeks to your local nursery will afford you an opportunity to spread out the blooming cycle.
Pruning camellias while they are blooming is one of the best ways to take advantage of their blooms for floral displays and also the best time to shape the plants to your specifications.
Planting camellias in the proper location is important. If you are taking advantage of a shady location from established landscapes you should be aware that the roots of these trees will compete with newly planted materials. Initially you will have to clear the planting area from any potentially invasive roots. This should be at least a 4’ x 4’ area. Although these plants are shallow rooted, you should also check for roots to a depth of a couple of feet. Check the drainage by filling the planting hole with water. If it is still there in the next morning, you will have to dig to a depth where the drainage percolates
the water in a couple of hours. The camellia will compete with the roots in the landscape after a couple of years. By watering a larger area around the newly planted camellia you will give it a better chance of competing.
Camellias are mostly insect and disease free. There are a few things to look out for:
Aphid: These can be a pest and usually hatch in the late fall and early winter. Most people recognize the invasion by a sooty substance on the old growth. These can easily be washed away
Blossom Blight: This problem shows itself as the blooms start to open. They are deformed and those blooms that do open have brown edges. Spray with liquid copper.
Scale: The evidence of this problem is a show of ants going up and down the trunk. Look for shell-like insects along the stems and trunk. Horticultural oil will make short work of the problem
Yellow leaves: One of the most common problems. This indicates a lack of iron and nitrogen. Fertilizing usually takes care of the problem. If you have feed the plants on a regular basis and the yellow persists, check the drainage. It is also a good idea to mulch around each plant with shredded cedar bark.
Other problems that might exist are brown leaves from too much sun. This is fairly common when the weather all of a sudden turns very hot. You can prevent the damage by spraying the plant with Cloud Cover or Wilt-Pruf prior to the heat wave.
Unlike many plants in the landscape, such as junipers, camellias can live up to 200 years and more. They are cold hardy to 15 degrees Farenheit, even colder in some areas.

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