We love Camellias here in the south! So much so, it is Alabama’s state flower. But here in Georgia, each early winter and early spring, the vast varieties of Camellias come alive in our landscapes. More than 3,000 varieties of camellias exist. They have a wide range of colors, forms, and sizes; and deer don’t eat them. As a rule of thumb, Camellia sasanqua blooms late fall/early winter and have smaller leaves. Camellia japonica tends to bloom late winter/early spring and have large leaves.
Establishing new plants. Plant new Camellias in the spring or fall. This will give them plenty of time to establish roots before the harsh winter and summer. Plant your Camellia with half existing soil and half quality amendments like Fafard Planting Mix or Mushroom Compost. Dig the hole twice the size of the root ball and about as deep. Plant just as deep as it is in the pot – no deeper. Give your Camellias and all your plants a boost with Espoma BioTone! We here at The Family Tree are amazed at the difference this root starter fertilizer makes on all plants! Mulch thoroughly to keep roots cool and the soil moist. Regular watering is critical during the first year. Water thoroughly; then let the top of the soil go slightly dry before the next watering.
Exposure and watering. Camellias generally prefer partial shade, with shelter from hot afternoon sun. As they grow larger and their thick canopy of leaves shades and cools their roots, they gradually will accept more sun. Shade gardening is easy when including Camellias. You can plant Helleborus and Hosta to add beautiful color and texture. Camellias don’t care for strong winds and hot sun.
Fertilizing. Your first fertilization should be when planted, as stated above, with Espoma BioTone to give your new plant the initial nutrients it needs. Camellias prefer acidic fertilizers in the spring after the flowers have dropped off. Fertilize again in June if the foliage is not a dark green. Always follow the label instructions, never overdo the fertilizer.
Camellia problems. Camellias can typically overcome most problems with proper fertilization and treatment as needed. Scorched or yellowed areas in the center of leaves usually indicate a sunburn. Burnt leaf edges, excessive leaf drop, or corky leaf spots generally point to overfertilizing. Camellias do well in the south because of our acidic soil. If the leaves turn yellow with green veins it usually means they are planted in neutral or alkaline soil and the pH need to be corrected with iron sulfate or acidic fertilizer.
Scale is a common pest. These pests look like tiny brown or white specks on leaf undersides; sooty mold grows on the honeydew they secrete. Infested leaves turn yellow and drop. To treat Scale, apply horticultural oil or a systemic insecticide, following label instructions.
Two fungal diseases are common. Camellia petal blight causes flowers to turn brown rapidly, then drop. Sanitation is the best control: pick up and destroy all fallen blossoms as well as infected ones still on the plant. Remove and discard any existing mulch, then replace it with a 4- to 5-in. layer of fresh mulch. Camellia leaf gall causes leaves to become distorted, pale, thick, and fleshy; they gradually turn white, then brown, then drop from the plant. The best control is to pick up and destroy affected leaves before they turn white.
Bud drop is a frequent complaint. To some extent, this is natural for all camellias (many set more buds than they can open), but it also may be caused by overwatering, summer drought, or sudden freezes.
Pruning. Some varieties of Camellias can get pretty tall and rangy. Prune after blooming has ended. Remove dead or weak wood; thin out growth when it is so dense that flowers have no room to open properly. Shorten lower branches to encourage upright growth; cut back top growth to make lanky shrubs bushier. When pruning, cut just above a scar that marks the end of the previous year’s growth (often a slightly thickened, somewhat rough area where bark texture and color change slightly). Making your cuts just above this point usually forces three or four dominant buds into growth.
Camellias in containers. Camellias are outstanding container plants whether you grow them outdoors on a terrace or indoors in a cool greenhouse. As a general rule, plant gallon-size camellias in 12- to 14-in.-diameter containers, 5-gallon ones in 16- to 18-in. containers. Fill the container with a potting mix containing 50 percent or more organic material. Make sure the container has a generous drainage hole.