DALY: Camellias make attractive additions to the landscape

Timothy Daly

Timothy Daly

Throughout our area, camellias are a favorite evergreen shrub. They have attractive dark green broad leaves, and they bloom prolifically during the cold weather months. Camellias produce flowers in a multitude of shapes and colors with more than 2,300 different varieties registered with the American Camellia Society.

Camellias usually grow to a height of six to 12 feet, but have the potential to grow much larger. Because they are evergreen shrubs, they are attractive landscape plants throughout the year. Given proper care and maintenance, camellias are a great addition to the home landscape.

Camellias have many practical uses in the landscape. Since the shrubs have the potential to grow large, they are often used as specimen plants and screens. However, their most valued ornamental feature is their beautiful flowers.

Camellias should be planted in well drained organic soil in areas of partial shade since excessive sun can cause sun scald and yellowing of the leaves. They also prefer locations that are protected from the wind. As with planting other trees and shrubs, dig the hole twice as wide as the root ball, and then place the rootball in the hole at a depth where the top is slightly above the soil level.

Avoid planting it too deep, which could possibly cause root rot. Fill in the hole with the original soil and cover it with a two- to three-inch layer of organic mulch such as pine straw, pine bark, or cypress mulch. Camellia plants require adequate water during the first year. However, well established older camellias require no watering except during prolonged dry spells.

Camellias prefer a pH of 5.0 to 6.5 and do not need a lot of fertilizer. One level tablespoon of an all-purpose fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10, per foot of plant height applied in March and then again in June is usually sufficient in the first couple of years. Broadcast the fertilizer evenly across the soil underneath the plant and water in thoroughly. Once the plants become established, they seldom need supplemental fertilization.

Be aware that sometimes flower buds drop off the plants, which is quite natural and harmless in most cases. Often camellias produce more buds than can become flowers and shed the excess ones. Environmental conditions, such as extreme heat and drought, will increase bud dropping and can sometimes result in blooms of an inferior quality. The ideal time for pruning is in the late winter or early spring after flowering.

The middle of February to early April is the ideal time to do any heavy, corrective pruning. Most camellias generally need only the occasional removal of damaged branches and shoots that detract from the desired form of the plant.

The 2011 Annual Gwinnett County Extension Plant Sale is offering four varieties of camellias: two red flowering varieties “Yuletide” and “Professor Sargent,” the pink blooming “Cleopatra” and the white “White-by-the-Gate.” Several other plants are also available. To obtain a brochure and an order form, go to www.gwinnettextension.org, or call the Extension office and one can be mailed to you.

Timothy Daly, MS, Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent, Gwinnett County Extension. Tim may be contacted by phone at 678-377-4010 or by e-mail at timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.