Get It Growing: Camellias Brighten Winter Landscape

Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.  |  4/16/2005 1:52:57 AM

Get It Growing

Get It Growing News For 01/21/05

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

The camellia is a shrub that brightens our winter gardens with huge, beautiful flowers, and now is an excellent time to select blooming camellias and plant them into your landscape.

Camellia japonica, which is blooming now, is the most prominent of the camellia species. Its evergreen leaves are oval, pointed, dark green and glossy. Then, during winter, it provides us with a fantastic floral display. The flowers range in color from pure white to all shades of pink to the deepest red. Some varieties are variegated with white, red and pink streaks or patches in the same flower. Flower size can be from a couple of inches up to 6 inches or 7 inches.

Camellia sasanqua is another commonly grown species. Plants in this species generally are called sasanquas to distinguish them from Camellia japonica, which we call camellias. The growth habit of sasanquas generally is bushy when they are young, but as they age they eventually will grow into lovely small trees 10 feet to 15 feet tall. The foliage of sasanquas is smaller than that of camellias and is a glossy, dark green. Their flowers are not as large as the camellia, but they have a wonderful spicy fragrance and are produced in great abundance from October through mid-winter.

A couple of popular lower-growing cultivars (up to about 5 feet), > Shi Shi Gashira= and > Showa No Sakae,= generally are called dwarf sasanquas. But they actually are a different species called C. hiemalis.

Success with camellias really depends on the planting site. Part sun to part shade is best, especially for younger plants. Choose a location that receives four hours to six hours of direct sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon or a spot that receives light, dappled shade throughout the day.

When planted in full sun, camellias are subject to more stressful conditions. The foliage sometimes has a yellowish look, and flower buds may not open properly. Plants in full sun also may be more susceptible to injury in freezing weather.

Good drainage also is essential. Do not plant camellias in areas that are poorly drained or where water settles after a rain. If an area has poor drainage, plant camellias on mounds or in raised beds.

The addition of organic matter to the planting area also is highly recommended. Compost, finely ground composted pine bark and rotted manure all are suitable forms of organic matter.

Camellias are acid-loving plants, and an alkaline soil (pH above 7) can limit their ability to obtain some nutrients, especially iron. When you are preparing the area for planting, you should incorporate a soil acidifier to help make the soil more acid if your soil is alkaline. (Get it tested through your local LSU AgCenter Extension office, if you’re not sure.) Three readily available materials for this are ground sulfur, iron sulfate (copperas) and aluminum sulfate. I generally use copperas, because it is faster acting than sulfur and provides additional iron.

As with planting all trees and shrubs, depth of planting for camellias is very important. Make sure they are planted with the upper surface of the root ball even with or slightly above the soil level of the planting area. Apply mulch several inches thick around each newly planted camellia. The mulch will help maintain moisture and prevent the growth of weeds.

Tea scale is the most serious pest of camellias and sasanquas. These insects feed primarily on the undersides of the leaves, but in cases of extremely heavy infestations, they may also be found on the upper surfaces. The undersides of infested leaves will be covered with white and brown slightly fuzzy masses, which eventually will lead to yellow blotches on the upper surfaces. Infested plants have poor vigor, will not bloom well and may eventually die.

Tea scale will not go away by itself. Oil sprays are effective in controlling tea scale and may be used in fall, winter and spring when temperatures are between 45 and 85 degrees. Dimethoate (commonly sold as Cygon) is a systemic insecticide that is used in the spring as a spray or soil drench.

Feed camellias in the spring as new growth begins – about March or early April. Use a fertilizer labeled for acid-loving plants or any general-purpose fertilizer according to the manufacturer= s label directions.

Although excellent drainage is necessary, camellias need adequate water – especially during hot, dry spells in the summer. This is particularly important for newly planted shrubs during their first year.

Camellias are part of our Southern gardening heritage. A few well-placed specimens will brighten up your landscape during the winter when few other shrubs are blooming.

Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com.  A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.

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Contact:  Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu
Editor:     Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or tmerrill@agcenter.lsu.edu

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