Winter Blooming Camellias
Growing up in Alabama I took the Winter blooming Camellias for granted. Why not, they bloomed everywhere and everybody had one in their yard. Naturally that is why Camellia, is the state flower of Alabama. But later in life and miles from Alabama I find it is not as popular in other states and many people have never heard of a Camellia. 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. I live in the desert plains of Las Vegas which you would not consider idea for camellias, yet grown in a shady spot, and in a large pots and tubs, they have acclimated and do well.
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.
RequirementsCamellias 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.