Camellias have been grown for centuries for their beauty! But just like us, they have special requirements for their health and well being. Growing Camellias is not very difficult if you understand what they like and what they don’t.
What Are Camellias?
Camellias are evergreen flowering ornamental shrubs. They produce flowers throughout many seasons of the year and grow and bloom best in mild climates. The family of Camellias, also called the genus, contains hundreds of species, or groups of camellias that have certain characteristics that are similar to each other. The most common species in the USA are Camellia japonica, Camellia sasanqua, Camellia hybrids and Camellia sinensis. No other flowering ornamental offers the wide diversity of bloom colors, patterns, shapes, sizes, flowering seasons and growth habits that the camellia does. For this reason, Camellias are often referred to as The Queen Of Ornamentals.
Where Can Camellias Be Grown?
Camellias are grown best in the milder climate zones of 9, 8 and some parts of 7. There are some camellias with special cold tolerant characteristics that can extend the growing region into 7a and even 6a and b. Likewise, there are camellias that are more tropical in nature and do well in very warm climates such as 9 and 10.
The bloom season for the camellia family typically ranges from Fall to Spring. Every variety is different and has its own unique bloom season. A normal bloom range for a camellia is 4-5 weeks and is dependent on climate and cultural factors and could be shorter or longer than 4-5 weeks.
Camellias ~ Sun Or Shade
All camellias should grow in a partial shade/sun environment. This can be under a light shade tree that gets bright light, but not necessarily direct sun exposure. There are some can grow in full sun and even flower better the more sun they get. It is quite difficult to get Camellias to bloom camellias in full heavy dense shade that gets no direct, or indirect light.To be safe, light colored camellias will appreciate a little shadier spot while many dark colored flowers can take a bit more sun. There are exceptions to this rule, especially with different varieties and species. Camellia sasanqua varieties can all take, and grow better, with more sun – even full sun. There are some japonica camellias that are light colored – like the white flowering camellia japonica ‘Sea Foam’, that can tolerate more sun, while at the same time the white flowering Camellia japonica ‘Mansize” will need more shade.
What Soil Do Camellias Prefer?
Camellias like a well drained, moist soil with organic matter. They will have a hard time in very sandy soil or clay soil that is too compact. Amendments to the soil is recommended to provide them with better drainage. Sandy Soil could be amended with peat moss to add a little water holding capability while really hard, clay type soils could benefit from soil conditioner or perlite to help break up the soil.
An acid soil pH of 5.5-5.8 is ideal for Camellias. Know your soil pH. Improper soil pH can lead to poor growth, nutrient deficiencies, and in some cases, death.
Camellias like to be moist but well drained. They don’t like to dry out. They will require more water in the summer than in the fall and winter months.
Camellias, like people, require a balanced diet. Nutrient deficient camellias will be come unhealthy and and will not perform as they should. Declined growth, underdeveloped or no blooms, leaf dropping, and disease and pest problems are increased with camellias that don’t have proper nutrients.Don’t apply fertilizers just because you have them or think you need them. Applying the wrong kind of fertilizer can damage plants. It is best if you take a soil sample and send it to your county extension service for analysis so you will know exactly how much and what to apply. They will also tell you the pH of the soil and how to correct if if necessary.Natural NutrientsOne of the best ways to get nutrients back in the soil is by applying an organic mulch. As mulch breaks down, nutrients are added to the soil. But even with mulch, supplements are necessary to give camellias a healthy balanced diet. We recommend using an organic fertilizer like Hollytone. Always remember that a fertilizer plan must be followed without major gaps. Your plants will need consistent nutrients without long periods without any.
Plant Camellias in the fall in zone 8-9 and in the spring in zones 7-6. We recommend raised plantings or planting where the root ball is slightly higher than ground level. Dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball and amend the soil if necessary. Put your plant in the hole and back fill with soil. Pack in tightly, but don’t put any soil on top of the root ball. You can add a 3-4″ layer of mulch the top of the plant and water in well. Keep soil moist, but make sure it is well drained.
We recommend light pruning to maintain size, remove damaged wood or to regenerate new growth. By choosing the right plant for the right location, you won’t need to prune much. There are some plants that grow fast and some plants that grow slow. For low growing needs, choose a camellia that is slower or lower growing. In other words, choose a plant for a location that won’t require a lot of pruning. Excessive pruning will reduce flower bud set. Also plants that are very dense from pruning will be more prone to disease and insects than a camellia that is growing naturally the way it’s supposed to grow.If you do prune, make sure your clippers are sharp and clean. Do not use hedgers on Camellias. They tend to rip and tear the branches instead of making clean, sharp cuts. Broken twigs from clippers will cause disease and damage to your camellias.Pruning should be done after the last blooms and prior to new spring growth. Each stem will have growth buds right at the base where the leaf meets the stem. You want to make any cuts right above this growth bud.