Many gardeners have had a case of bad sunburn at one time or another in their lives, but the condition can also affect camellias as well. Usually this condition occurs during the most extremely hot days of summer when the sun is high in the sky and the sun’s rays are most intense. Many camellias can be grown in full sun or mostly sun conditions. When these camellias are established in the sunny conditions, their new growth slowly acclimates to the sun’s intensity as the seasons progress. However, if a camellia grown in a shaded environment is suddenly moved to an intense sunny location during the hot summer, this type of sunburn will likely occur quickly. The image right shows a sudden and intense case of sunburn on a plant of Camellia sinensis. This plant was intentionally moved from shade to full sun to create this condition for our illustrative purposes. Had we placed this same camellia in the full sun conditions during the late winter to early spring and let it slowly acclimate to the sun’s changing intensity, we would likely have never seen any sunburn at all.
Many times during the hot summer, we will prune certain varieties severely as we take cuttings for propagation at CamelliaShop. The image above shows a stock plant of Camellia japonica ‘Royal Velvet’ about a week after the sever pruning. The plant is located in the full sun and had acclimated to the sun’s intense conditions. However, when we severely pruned the plant for cuttings, we removed much of the foliage that was shading the lower leaves. The result was a sudden exposure to the sun and a case of sunburn on some of the foliage.
Sometimes periods of rain follower by quick clearing and an immediate return to full intense sun can cause sunburn on camellias. Such was the case of the sunburn illustrated in the image above. This camellia japonica can normally withstand full sun without any problems. However, this camellia suffered sever sunburn on a day when the hot intense sun was briefly interrupted by a quick rain shower followed by a quick return to intense heat and sun. The wet foliage actually intensified the damage of the sunburn.
So what can we learn from all this? Remember to not plant camellias in full sun or mostly sun conditions during the hot days of summer if possible. Sunburn can occur any time of year, but planting them when it is cooler and the sun is less intense will minimize the problem of sunburn. We have seen camellias that are not acclimated to their environments burn even in the winter months. Avoid watering the foliage your camellias in full sun or mostly sunny conditions during times when the sun is shining on the foliage. This will minimize sunburn problems. Even if you get severe sunburn on your camellias, do not be too concerned. The plants will likely drop most of the damaged leaves as new growth emerges to replace them. Sunburn happens, but minimizing it keeps your camellias looking good in the garden.