Captivating Camellias


Camellia, the state flower of Alabama, is a popular flowering evergreen shrub that adds bright color to partially shaded areas in winter and early spring when few other flowers are blooming. Use them near outdoor living areas where they will be noticed. They also make an excellent hedge plant.







Camellias are broad-leaved evergreen shrubs that grow up to 12 to 25 feet tall and produce showy, rose-like flowers in a wide range of colors between white and red flowers. Camellias grow in hardiness zones 6 through 8. They prefer partial shade and rich, well-draining, slightly acidic soil with a pH level between 5.5 and 6.5.  The plants are a native of Japan and China,
and are related to the tea family of plants.


 

The plant's dark, glossy leaves and vibrant flowers make it popular for use in bouquets and corsages. While camellias are tolerant of summer's high temperatures, they require a period of cold in order to establish their blooms. Camellias are best grown in large pots and tubs, but will grow in beds as well. There are several varieties of camellias.


 
 
 
Description
Camellias produce flowers with overlapping petals that are up to five inches in diameter from late winter to early spring. The lustrous deep green leaves stay glossy year round. The plants grow slowly but they can reach a height of 20 feet when mature. Camellias are popular throughout the southeastern U.S. and enthusiasts have developed over 3,000 hybrids and cultivars in a wide range of colors.

 
 
 
Requirements
Camellias need a rich well-drained soil with lots of moisture and a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. The best location is on the west side of a wall or structure where the plant will have protection from morning sun. Plants develop leaf scorch when grown in full sun. Camellias have shallow roots and need a thick mulch help the soil hold in moisture. They prefer partial shade in warm climates and light shade in cooler regions. Camellias are hardy in United States Department of Agriculture zones 6 to 9. Insufficient watering can cause buds to drop in the summer. Protect camellias from direct sunlight and add 2 or 3 inches of mulch to preserve soil moisture.







Planting
Plant camellias between late fall and early spring. Most varieties spread 6 to 8 feet, so allow plenty of room between plants. When planting camellias as a hedge space them 6 feet apart. Plant camellias in a hole 2 to 3 times as wide and the same depth as the root ball. If the soil is heavy or compacted dig the hole wider and and deeper work in some organic material such as ground pine bark or mature compost before planting.






A frequent reason that newly planted camellias don’t survive is planting too deep. Before planting, mound loose soil or added organic material on the bottom of the hole so that the top of the root ball is an inch or a little more above the surrounding ground level. The plants will settle after planting.

After planting apply a 3 to 4 inch layer of organic mulch. Pine straw is a good mulch for camellias because it helps to acidify the soil. Do not fertilize camellias at planting time.

Winter Care
Although camellias can normally tolerate temperatures as low as 10 degrees F, a sudden dip in temperatures can damage foliage and kill flower buds. When forecasts call for a sudden freeze it is best to cover the plants, particularly any tender new buds.








Fertilization
Many people over-fertilize camellias. This results in the plants spreading their branches and developing an open growth habit that ruins the attractive compact appearance of the shrub. Beginning in the second season apply 8 to 16 oz. of cottonseed meal to each plant, or use a small amount of fertilizer formulated for camellias. Specially formulated fertilizers are available in most garden centers and discount stores. They acidify the soil and feed the plant, but they should be used sparingly.






Pruning and Disbudding
Most camellias need only occasional light pruning. After the plants bloom and before new buds form, check for dead wood to be removed and trim back where plants are losing their compact form. Look for areas of dense growth where thinning inside limbs will improve air circulation.

Gardeners who wish to maximize the size and beauty of camellia blooms may disbud a camellia, removing all but one bud on each terminal branch. This allows the plant to concentrate its resources on a select set of flowers.

Blooming
According to the Clemson University Cooperative Extension, the best time to plant camellias is from mid-October to mid-November and mid-March to mid-April. Camellia varieties bloom from fall through early spring. Early varieties, such as Pink Perfection, bloom in November, and late varieties, such as Betty Scheffield Supreme, bloom in April and May.



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