Plants for your home
(By Mary Efanti)
These gorgeous shrubs, which are clothed in
lustrous, dark green foliage, are
natives of Japan and China. The genus was named for George Kamel, a Jesuit
missionary who travelled in Asia and studied the flora of the Philippines. Red
camellias symbolize intrinsic worth and white blossoms mean loveliness.
Displayed at Korean weddings as far back as 1200 BC, camellias represent
longevity and faithfulness. Camellias produce large, elegant, rose-like blossoms that range in color from
pale ivory to shell pink to glistening crimson. The flowers come in a variety of
shapes and sizes. The flowers are prized, but so are the glossy leaves that stay
a deep, shiny green all year. It is a slow grower, but eventually will reach up
to 20' tall. There are thousands of varieties available to the gardener, which
have been derived mainly from four species: C. japonica, C. sasanqua, C.
reticulata, and C. saluenensis. Most common is Camellia japonica. All
varieties have flowers ranging from single to double and come in red, pink,
white and rose. Over 3,000 varieties, cultivars and hybrids of Camellia
japonica are cultivated. Camellia
japonica grows to an average height of about 8’, with some spreading
varieties topping off at 4 feet. If grown indoors as a container plant, it
will flower in January and February. Outside they generally bloom in March and
April. This ancient oriental species forms a dense pyramid.
glossy evergreen leaves and showy winter flowers, make growing Camellias
extremely rewarding. They can be grown as a container plant in a greenhouse,
atrium, or sunroom or as a garden plant outdoors in a sheltered location.
With proper siting and a little extra care, Camellias can bring you years of
enjoyment in the garden. By choosing
cultivars that are hardy for your location and following the cultural
recommendations below, you can extend the flowering season of your garden right
through the winter.
Temperature and Light
Camellias require a humid,
temperate climate to thrive. They are fairly hardy and
easy to grow, being able to withstand temperatures as low as 0º F, though
some thought should be put into deciding the place where your shrubs are to be
placed. Camellias need high temperatures and long days in order to develop their
flower buds. However, for them to open, cool temperatures and short days are
required. Flower buds will most likely be damaged if they become frozen and thaw
rapidly, which will most likely happen if they are grown facing east where the
morning sun will quickly thaw them. They should be placed in filtered shade.
Generally, the warmer the climate, the less direct sun is needed. In
climates where Camellias are not hardy, they can be grown in greenhouses with a
minimum temperature of 45º to 55º F.
Camellias need moist, well-drained, crumbly soil that has been enhanced with organic matter and
has a pH of about 6.0. Soil that has high alkalinity will eventually kill your
Camellias, even if they are constantly treated. The ground your shrubs are
planted in should be firmed but not packed down as their delicate, fibrous roots
grow shallowly. It is beneficial to mulch around your plants to keep the ground
from freezing too quickly. Camellias that are grown in containers need a loose,
slightly acidic potting soil. Soil consisting of two parts fertile loam or good
garden soil, one part peat moss, and one part sand is recommended for these
plants. A little dried cow manure and bone meal added is also beneficial.
Camellia prefers rich moist soil, but is
adaptable. Special precautions need to be
taken when watering your plants. Over watering or letting the roots dry out will
cause your Camellias to lose their flower buds. Additionally, container
grown Camellias should be allowed to dry out between waterings.
To promote flowering, Camellias should be pruned when they are actively growing in the
spring and no later than mid-June. Pruning should be done right
after flowering before new buds develop. It consists of removing dead twigs and
branches that extend above the outline of the plant and thinning the centers of
the shrubs to allow air to circulate. Plants that have outgrown their space can
be pruned back hard and sprayed several times a day until new growth has formed.
in May and June will also help
with flower bud production. If growing indoors, your plant can be fertilized every 6 weeks whenever it is actively
growing. It is not necessary to feed while in bloom.
You should check for pests frequently. Scale insects are the worst and cause the
foliage to yellow and fall. Spider mites are troublesome in hot, dry weather and
cause the foliage to turn bronze and speckled, especially along the main vein.
Camellia canker and dieback is a fungal disease in hot, humid weather and can
kill whole plants. Flower blight causes brown spots on the petals and deformed
flowers, though it won't kill the shrub. It is also important to remove spent flowers and
keep debris from lying around the base of the plant to inhibit any fungal or
disease problems. If the soil doesn't have adequate drainage, the roots may rot.
Camellias can be grown from seed, but garden varieties do not
come true that way. It is better to take cuttings
after flowering, about
4 inches long, and insert them into pots of coarse sand in which a very small
amount of peat has been added. Varieties may also be increased by grafting on
plants grown from seeds or cuttings. This should be done about three weeks
before growth starts in the spring. The cleft graft is commonly used and the
scion is inserted close to the ground. In outdoor grafting, after the scion is
inserted and firmly tied in place, it is covered to its tip with sand or clean
soil and it is covered with a glass jar until growth begins, after
which it is removed. A special propagating frame in a greenhouse may also be
used for handling grafts. They are kept in it until union has taken place. If
seeds are used, they should be sown in pots, flats or beds filled with the same
soil mixture that is used for potting. Seeds should be sown soon after they've
matured and have been gathered