Camellia Care and Planting Tips

Camellia Care and Planting Tips

Camellias have become a prized addition to any shade landscape. With their year-round glossy green foliage and stunning winter blooms, these shrubs offer a wide range of colors from white to the deepest red. Whether you prefer large varieties that resemble small trees or lower-growing shrub types, there’s a camellia hybrid to suit your taste. In Arkansas, two main species are commonly used: sasanqua camellias, which bloom in late fall to early winter with smaller leaves and flowers, and japonica camellias, which bloom in late winter or early spring and typically have larger leaves. There are also hybrid cultivars available that offer desirable characteristics like cold hardiness. Be warned, though, japonicas are more susceptible to late frost due to their later bloom season. But their large, multi-petaled flowers make it all worthwhile! Camellias can serve various purposes in your landscape, including specimen plants, hedges and screens, as well as container plantings.

Caring for Camellias

When it comes to camellia care, it’s a relatively straightforward process. Plant your camellias in a shaded to partially sunny area, preferably with morning sun and afternoon shade. As the plants mature and the canopy provides more shade to the roots, they can tolerate a bit more sun. Camellias thrive in rich, well-drained soil and require ample moisture. Make sure to water them during dry conditions to encourage new growth. One important tip to remember is to avoid planting camellias too deep. Plant them about 1-2 inches above the surrounding grade, gently sloping the soil up to the sides of the exposed root ball. Do not cover the root ball with soil; instead, mulch around the plant with a thin layer over the root ball. After planting, water the camellia well.

Pruning Camellias

When it comes to shaping your camellias, opt for selective pruning rather than shearing. This will help maintain the natural shape of the plants. Be careful not to remove more than one third of the plant at any given time. If the foliage becomes dense and starts to crowd the flowers, thin out the branching. To encourage a more upright growth pattern, consider shortening the lower branches. Additionally, if you notice leggy top growth, trimming it back will promote a fuller plant form. Pruning should be done after the chance of frost has passed in the spring and the flowers have faded. Keep in mind that camellias set flower buds in late summer, so pruning at the wrong time of year can greatly reduce blooming.

Fertilizing Camellias

Camellias prefer acidic soil conditions, which are commonly found in central Arkansas. Using a fertilizer specifically formulated for acid-loving plants, such as camellia/azalea food, after blooming will provide the necessary nutrients and help maintain the proper soil pH. Plant your camellias in soils with a pH range of 5.5 to 6.5. An incorrect pH level can impact the plant’s ability to absorb fertilizer. If you’re unsure about the pH of your soil, consider conducting a simple test using available test kits. In the southeastern United States, it is recommended to fertilize camellias in March, May, and early July. Rake back the mulch to the drip line of the plant, and apply the fertilizer directly to the soil. Remember to water thoroughly after application. Always read and follow the instructions carefully when using any fertilizer.

Watch for These Symptoms on Camellias

Like any plant, camellias have their own set of potential issues. One common problem is scale, which can be treated with dormant oil and a yearly systemic insecticide soil drench. The recommended fertilizer mentioned earlier, which contains a systemic insecticide, works well to control scale as well. Yellowing leaves may indicate a lack of iron. Test the pH of the soil and adjust it if it’s above 6.5. In some cases, treating with an iron supplement may be necessary.

Ready to explore our selection of camellias? Check out our Tips Tree Planting inventory for the latest availability!

Posted on January 15, 2021 by Jennifer Gibson – Seasonal Tips