Last updated on February 27th, 2022
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Camellias are beautiful trees and shrubs that give you glossy foliage all year round with flowers appearing during the colder seasons. People who cultivate them know that the most common include the Japonicas and Sasanquas but there are also fun hybrid options out there that achieve various shapes, colours and unusual growth habits.
Typically Camellias will do just fine when they are left alone and they thrive in decent growing conditions such as well-drained acidic soil, in light shade, in a sheltered position with proper fertiliser for acid-loving plants. Remembering not to feed them after July because this can cause the buds to drop.
Choosing the right variety
When you are ready to grow Camellias you first need to find the right one for your garden. Camellias will bloom at different times of the year. The Sasanquas will bloom in the mid-season from the middle of autumn through to the beginning of winter and they tend to prefer full sun while the other varieties bloom from the middle of winter through to spring. Hybrids can bloom in either. So, you need to figure out which schedule you prefer and then pick the variety that fits best into that schedule. The most popular seems to be the Camellia japonica which flowers in early spring and prefers a slightly shaded and sheltered spot.
Camellias need the right location, just like all plants. Subtle differences in the habitat in which they are cultivated will change the colour and the size of the blooms in small fashions. If you plant it near your doorway or your path you might consider picking a variety that offers a very beautiful fragrance. If you have a small area you might want to consider one that only reaches a few hundred cms in height. Of course, you might prefer picking specific bloom colours so that your garden maintains a monochromatic scheme. If you need your Camellia for a hedge, you might want to plant one that is fast-growing and tall.
When caring for your Camellia the soil should be slightly acidic between 5.5 and 6.5. These trees will not grow well if your soil has a high pH. If the soil is very alkaline you will see the signs of stress, like yellowing of the leaves. If you don’t have acidic soil then you might want to consider growing Camellias in pots using ericaceous compost.
In terms of moisture, they do not tolerate wet feet so you need to make sure that the soil is well-drained, often planting a little higher in the ground with a small mound around the roots can work well in achieving this.
They bloom better in partial shade particularly if you give morning sunlight and then shade in the afternoon. This is particularly true of younger plants that need shade to thrive and grow larger canopies. As the plants get older and more established they become more accepting of increased sun exposure.
When you choose to plant your Camellia is just as important as how you care for it. Timing is critical. If you live in a warmer area you can plant it during the autumn which is probably the best time as well as during the winter. The spring is probably the most common time that people plant them because this is when most types flower and catch people’s attention.
You need to make sure that when you plant your Camellia you dig a hole twice the size of the roots and just as deep as the roots. Backfill it approximately 60cm and then pack that soil down. Place the plants in the hole and make sure that it is not too deep. Camellias will not flourish if they are planted too deeply. They will also not do well if you cover the top of the root ball so, leave the top of it gently exposed and then add mulch around the base using ericaceous compost. When you plant it be sure to water it immediately after.
On that note, you will need to water new plants more regularly. After about three years they become older and more vigorous in terms of the root structure so you can give them less water and most thrive with no attention whatsoever.
Provide them with an acid-forming fertiliser in the spring, however, it is important to make sure you feed before July because excessive feeding can cause them to drop their buds for the following season. If you notice that things are a little sluggish or the foliage is sparse you can add fertiliser in the middle of summer as well, but only add a little.
It is best that you choose a fertiliser that is specifically designed for Camellias or acid-loving plants (usually referred to as ericaceous feed) and apply according to the instructions. Do not add fertiliser after July because your plant will begin its dormancy at this time and accidentally adding extra fertiliser will cause unnecessary growth right before the plant has to deal with the cold weather.
In terms of pruning, you should only prune the Camellia after the blooming has come to an end. Get rid of any dead or diseased wood immediately. Shorten the lower branches and cut them back in order to encourage upright growth. When you are pruning it’s important to cut just above the scar that marks where you cut last year’s growth.
The most common problem with Camellias is usually no flowers or plants dropping buds, these are usually caused by incorrect growing conditions and can be overcome simply by providing the right growing conditions and care.
- Most form their buds in late winter so if it is particularly dry then water frequently at this important time of year.
- Feeding too late can result in excessive growth instead of forming buds so as a general rule, don’t feed after July.
- In autumn add a good layer of mulch around the base of the plant.
- Don’t plant in exposed winter winds.
- Wrap potted plants up in fleece to protect the buds in harsh winters.