By:
Tim Daly

Throughout our area, camellias are a favorite evergreen shrub. They have attractive dark green broad leaves, and they bloom prolifically during the winter. 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 6 to 12 feet but have the potential to become 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.

Two types of camellias are commonly planted in our area: The Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica) blooms during the winter and early spring months, whereas the sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua) flowers in the fall and tolerate more sunlight. They are related to the tea plant (Camellia sinensis).

Camellias are slow growing plants. Sometimes it can take a century for some varieties of camellias to reach 25 feet in height. They 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, showy flowers.

Camellias should be planted in well-drained, organic soil in areas of partial shade since too much 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 deeply, which could 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 need no watering except during prolonged dry spells.

Camellias prefer a pH of 5.0 to 6.5 and require minimal 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 sometimes 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 inferior quality.

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

Camellias are great shrubs to grow, and they liven up the landscape with their form, dark green foliage, and colorful blooms. Proper care and maintenance will allow them to perform at their bests for many years to come. For more information on camellias, go to the American Camellia Society website at www.camellias-acs.com/.

The UGA Extension Gwinnett 2019 annual plant sale is underway. Many excellent plants are available at affordable prices. Among the plants is the ‘Yuletide’ sasanqua camellia, which has bright red flowers with yellow centers. The sale also has blueberries, gardenias, ferns, goji berries, and many others. To obtain an order form, one can be downloaded from the Extension website at www.ugaextension.org/gwinnett, or you can have one mailed to you by contacting the Extension office.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with UGA Extension Gwinnett. He can be contacted at 678-377-4011or tdaly@uga.edu