When you are growing camellias in the nursery business, you have got to like winter because that is when your plants traditionally bloom. Camellias have been long admired and loved because they are a winter blooming evergreen shrub. But,… even with their love of cold weather, even camellias have their limits and occasionally need protection.
When we have a hard freeze and temperatures drop down into the low to mid twenties or even colder, all plants including camellias need to be well hydrated before the freeze. So,…if you hear that a hard freeze is coming in a day or two, go ahead and thoroughly water your plants. Freezing is a drying process, so you don’t want camellias or any other plants to be dry when an actual freeze occurs. This step helps to protect your plants from cold damage.
Flowers that are blooming or buds that are swelling and showing color will likely be damaged during a hard freeze. The magic threshold in temperature is usually around 28 degrees Fahrenheit. When temperatures drop to this temperature or below, you will likely see damage to the open flowers and buds showing color. So, what can you do to protect your blooms and open buds? Covering your plants ahead of the freeze with sheets, painter’s cloths, and sometimes quilts can minimize the damage. I always suggest using cloth material instead of plastic. Keep in mind that wind is usually associated with freezes, so be sure to secure the covers to your plants.
If you grow camellias in containers, you can sit the pots inside a protected area such as garage or storage building for protection for a few days. You can even bring them in the house for a short period of time. Just don’t leave them inside a house for very long periods of time. The low humidity conditions that are usually typical for inside are not ideal for camellias.
Another important cold protection for your camellias is making sure that the surface roots are protected with an adequate mulch. Camellias love a 3-4 inch layer of organic mulch such as leaves, pine bark nuggets, or pine straw. It’s like adding another blanket for a cold winter’s night.
If you have an irrigation system, make sure that it does not run during a hard freeze. You will find ice forming all over your plants, making everything look like a winter wonderland. It would be pretty, but it would not protect your open flowers. Instead, it would damage them further.
Remember, winter is part of camellias, but understanding these cold protection points can help you to enjoy even more blooms on the world’s most incredible winter blooming ornamental!
Gene Phillips is one of the owners of Gene’s Nursery in Savannah, Ga. He is a 2nd generation grower and attributes his love of Camellias to his father, who inspired him to breath in the beauty that they bring to him but more importantly to others. In his ‘free’ time, you’ll find him wandering through old gardens, trying to identify flowers or taking countless number of photos to share with others! He also enjoys meeting people and comparing ‘garden’ stories.