Camellias are a showy addition to your garden. In the right climates, the camellia provides a low-maintenance way to add bright, season-long color around the yard. The attractive plant was cultivated in China and Japan for centuries before making its way west. In addition to a garden favorite, camellias are also grown commercially for their leaves, which are used to make tea.
You can plant the camellia when it is in bloom. Planting during the spring is preferable to the fall, as this allows the roots to establish themselves and the plant to recover from transplanting before the first frost. Place the camellia in a hole that is as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. Never plant them deeper than they were planted in the pot. Adding mulch around the plant after repacking the soil will help keep weeds from competing with the camellia for nutrients and help the soil retain moisture.
Camellias prefer soil that is slightly acidic and well-drained. Test your soil's pH with an at-home kit to determine if you should add fertilizer meant for azaleas and rhododendrons to acidify the soil. The ideal pH for camellias is between 5.5 and 6.5. Work organic matter into the soil at planting and periodically top-dress with compost. They do best when the soil is moist but not wet.
Camellias prefer partial shade. Plant them in an area where the morning sun does not hit them, as strong sun exposure when the flowers are still wet with dew will damage the blooms. They also need protection from direct afternoon sun during the heat of the summer. Once the camellia matures, it can tolerate more sun, as its leaf structure will provide shade for the delicate roots.
Camellias need regular, deep watering. Their shallow root system requires frequent water and well-drained soil. They do not tolerate drought conditions, particularly during the summer and fall. The mature camellia plant is better able to withstand dry weather, but plan on providing supplemental watering at least once a week while the plant is actively growing and setting buds.
Aphids are attracted to camellias and will feed on new growth early in the spring. Aphid waste also attracts ants. Spider mites live on the undersides of leaves, and damaged leaves develop a bronze cast. Scale insects also live on the underside of leaves and are recognizable by a powdery white residue they leave behind. Damage from scale creates a mottled yellow appearance. Regular applications of insecticide can treat all of these pests.
Camellias are susceptible to petal blight during the late winter and early spring. Brown spots develop on the blossom, spreading until it eventually kills the plant. There is no cure for petal blight, although removing affected blooms may prevent it from spreading to other plants. Selecting early-blooming varieties of camellias for your garden may minimize the risk of this disease.
Camellias do not require fertilizer unless you are using it to acidify the soil. Providing too much commercial fertilizer can cause the buds to drop from your plants before they bloom. Instead, work organic material, such as aged manure, into the top inch or so of the soil once a year. Pruning isn't necessary either, although you can neaten the plant up a little if you want. Do this right after they finish blooming for the year to avoid interfering with next year's flowers.
There are several ways to propagate camellias. Semi-ripe cuttings are taken during the summer, while hardwood cuttings are taken during fall or winter. Regardless of when you take the cutting, dip the end in rooting hormone before placing it in soil. Another propagation method is layering, where you push one branch of the existing camellia into the soil. Make a few light cuts into the branch before burying it. Roots will form under the soil, and new growth will emerge above ground. You can then dig the new plant up, detaching it from the existing camellia and replanting it elsewhere.
Camellias are a popular choice for foundation plants. Their dense foliage and long-lasting blooms create a striking look. If planted in an ideal location, they are remarkably low-maintenance. Once their blooms fade, their evergreen leaves remain, providing an attractive backdrop during the winter months when most of the garden is brown.
Camellias come in many cultivars. The most common species is the japonica, and within this type, there are many varieties to choose from. The sasanqua is a later blooming option, and the hybrid camellia is the most cold-hardy of the bunch. When selecting a particular cultivar, decide what flower type you want. Camellias flower as singles, single-doubles, anemone, peony form, rose form double, and formal double. Knowing the type of bloom you want helps narrow down your decision.