Camellias are one of most misunderstood group of shrubs and often wrongly described as being difficult to grow. There are just a few things to bear in mind when deciding to grow camellias. Understand those and you will be rewarded by years of pleasure in the darkest winter months.
Camellias are winter flowering evergreen shrubs, growing to several metres ultimate height - depending upon variety and planting situation.
The most important thing to be aware of, is the fact that they are all ericaceous plants. That is to say that they will not live in alkaline - lime -soils. They require an acid soil with a ph of less than 6.5ph. If you can grow Rhododendrons and azaleas, then there should be no problems growing camellias.
It is possible to have camellias flowering from late autumn/early winter, right through to the onset of spring or even early summer. Most camellias are long flowered some more than others and all should give at least a month of flower in all but the severest of weather.
The flower colour range is from purest white through all pink shades and stopping at deepest crimson red. Flowers are rounded, and can be single, semi-double or full double. In short there will be Camellia to suit whatever you preference (other than blue!)
Flowers are generally 2 4 in across (sometimes as much as 5in), and normally held towards the tips of the branches and lateral shoots - often weighing slender branches down with their weight.
Rounded spear shaped dark green and glossy evergreen foliage, normally terminating in a pointed end, makes it an attractive shrub throughout then year, and is particularly good when acting as contrast for plants with autumnal tints. The shrubs are generally densely-foliaged though a few have a slightly open and loose habit.
Most camellias are happiest in semi or dappled shade. Many will grow in a position where there is only minimal sunlight - such as the north side of house or fence. Ideally though, a woodland or tree shaded situation is best. As with many things gardening, there are exceptions to the rule. Camellias are no different, in that one group - Camellia sasanqua - will grow in a sunny situation (as well as in the normal dappled shade areas).
Some Camellias will grow to 4-6 meters even more but most are happy to settle in at around 2m or even less. Good pruning can help to keep the shrub within bounds, but proper choice of position would be preferable. Container grown Camellias rarely reach more than 1.5 metres unless you specifically pot and grow with larger in mind!
Camellias have a reputation for losing their flowers before they are fully open. This is generally because they have been planted in a situation where they are subject to sun in the morning during the winter months. This does not harm the plant itself, but thaws out frozen flower buds too quickly resulting in the buds dropping off the plant. Camellias planted in a semi-woodland situation or in north facing aspect do not normally suffer so. If grown in a large container, I always advise it to be positioned on the north side of the house.
Camellias are excellent for growing in large containers, and can be trained and pruned into pyramidal shape if need be. Containers are particularly useful when living in a lime soil area.
Camellias will give many years of pleasure if you avoid the basic pitfalls of planting in alkaline soil; growing in exposed situations; Planting in full sun, and not allowing for the potential mature size.
Camellias can suffer attacks from aphids assorted, and this generally results in unsightly sooty mould unless dealt with promptly. Other than that, Aphids seem not to be a life-threatening problem unless grown in a conservatory or under glass.
Leaves turning yellow (generally chlorosis) is normally a sign of lime in the soil or with container plants, watering with tap water in alkaline water areas.
Camellias can be propagated by several types of cuttings - rarely from seed. They can also be grafted by those with the know-how.
Leaf Bud Cuttings are the norm - taken in late summer. A stem of the current season's growth is simply cut into sections with just one leaf attached! Scrape the bark at the rear of the leaf and bud - or just slightly removing a sliver. Apply Rooting powder. These sections are then placed into a heated propagator in the normal way, or inserted around the edge of a pot and enclosed with a clear plastic bag until rooted. Do not let the cuttings suffer in the heat of summer/autumn sun. Keep shaded.
Semi Ripe cuttings will also root as the above method, if you just want to increase a few plants.
Alternatively, the cuttings can be kept in a cold frame until rooted.
Camellias are one of the few winter flowering shrubs that will respond to pruning if necessary. It is important to realise that the flower buds for the Camellia are formed in early summer, ready to flower in late autumn or winter a few months hence. Any pruning carried out should be done right after flowering, in order to allow the shrub enough time to produce new shoots and flower buds.
Late pruning will inevitably result in a winter season with few or even no flowers. Late pruning of Camellias and other winter flowering shubs is one of the main causes poor or no flowers.
The shrub needs time through the spring and summer growing season to firstly produce new shoots and then produce the flower buds on those shoots ready for winter flowering. Flowers don't simply happen. They are a result of flower buds sometimes produced several months before actual flowering.
The most basic form of pruning camellias is simply dead-heading the faded blooms which simply make the shrub look untidy. Dead-heading does not prolong flowering as such, for as explained earlier, the flower buds will have been formed long ago. However, with single flowered varieties in particular, it can prevent seed setting. It takes energy to form seeds and this will have to be diverted from the general growth if the shrub.
The image shows quite clearly, a typical cluster of rounded flowerbuds as the plant does into winter. these buds would have been produced through July/august. leaf buds would normally be elongated and pointed.
Pruning is generally carried out in order to maintain a compact shape to the camellia. Pruning is only necessary for this reason. If you are happy with a lax, open habit maintained by some varieties, then no need to prune for this reason.
pruning Camellias is not rocket science. You can simply trim off any elongated shoots that you feel will eventually spoil the shape of the shrub. Cut back the 'offending' twigs with a pair of secateurs to just above a pair of health buds further down the stem. Do not cut back too far, unless you really need to head the size back.
If your camellia has been neglected, or if you really want to re-start with a smaller shrub, camellias respond quite well to pruning hard or rejuvenation pruning. Do this type of pruning as early in the spring as possible, and be prepared for some robust shoots to emerge. these in turn may need shortening in order to start a bushy framework once again.
The camellias response and happiness with being pruned, also makes for good Container plant specimens. Formative clipping - with secateurs - will allow you to train a pyramid shape - though not as formal as attained by training Bay trees.
The single most important fact to bear in mind, is that if you want flowers the following winter, then your pruning needs to be undertaken immediately after flowering. If you are prepared to sacrifice flowers for a year or so, then the Camellia can be pruned a little later, but before the summer sets in proper.
Learn - all aspects of lawn maintenance, how to build and maintain a pond, care and grow vegetables and fruit, fit for your table.
Identify Weeds in The Garden - How to deal with weeds. Diseases and Pest which harm your garden and plants, learn how to prevent, deter and erradicate your garden problems.
Pruning Guide. Shrubs flower better with correct pruning. Many illustrations and examples of what to do - and when. Includes evergreens, roses, flowering shrubs, spring flowering shrubs and pruning for stem effect. This is our most viewed and comprehensive section,Pruning
Gardening Businesses listed in the UK counties and USA states. County and State Listings of businesses involved in Garden supplies and services. If you wish to be added to the Directory, please send us your information. Having problems, use the search boxBusinesses
In this section you will learn about Gardening Basics, Containers, Landscaping, Propagation and Soil.
Our top Viewed Pages