Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 1/9/2007 3:12:15 AM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
We are fortunate indeed to live in a state where the mild winter climate allows us to grow camellias in our landscapes.
The dark-green, shiny, evergreen foliage alone is a beautiful addition to our landscapes. Then, during winter, we are rewarded with a fantastic floral display.
Although almost everyone is familiar with camellias, I think this outstanding shrub deserves more widespread planting. Now is an excellent time to select camellias that are in bloom at local nurseries and plant them into your landscape.
The traditional camellia, Camellia japonica, is the most prominent of the camellia species. The flowers range in color from pure white to all shades of pink to the deepest red. Some cultivars are variegated with white, red and pink streaks or patches in the same flower. The form or shape of the flower can range from single to peony to formal double, and the size from a couple of inches up to 6 or 7 inches.
Success with camellias depends on the planting site.
Camellias prefer partial shade to part sun – about four to six hours of direct sun with shade in the afternoon. They thrive in the light shade cast by tall pine trees but would not be as happy in the heavy shade under a large live oak. When planted in full sun, camellias are subject to more stressful conditions. In stressful full sun locations, the foliage sometimes has a yellowish look, and flower buds may not open properly.
Good drainage is essential. Do not plant camellias in areas that are poorly drained or where water settles after a rain. Plant camellias on mounds or in raised beds if you want to put them in an area where drainage otherwise would be a problem. The addition of organic matter and, in some cases, sand to the planting area will help improve drainage. Compost, peat moss 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, incorporate a soil acidifier, such as sulfur, copperas or aluminum sulfate, if the pH of your soil is above 7.
Depth of planting for camellias also 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 the newly planted camellia. The mulch will help maintain moisture and prevent the growth of weeds. Just be sure to pull it back slightly from the base of the trunk.
Tea scale is the most serious pest of camellias. 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 and will not bloom well.
Tea scale generally will not go away by itself and tends to get worse if not treated. 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. Make several applications spaced two weeks apart. Dimethoate (commonly sold as Cygon) is a systemic insecticide that is used in the spring as a spray or soil drench. It is especially useful in treating heavily infested plants. Just be sure to always read and follow label directions carefully.
Feed camellias in the spring as new growth begins – about March or early April. Use an all-purpose fertilizer appropriate to your area or a fertilizer labeled for acid-loving plants according to the manufacturer’s label directions.
Although excellent drainage is necessary, camellias need adequate water, especially during hot, dry spells during the summer. This is particularly important for newly planted shrubs during their first year.
Now also is a great time to purchase and plant camellias in containers. As beautiful as they are in the ground, camellias adapt happily to life in containers and are particularly impressive when grown that way.
Growing camellias in containers allows gardeners to cultivate them where ground space is not available, such as an apartment balcony or a deck or patio. It also allows you to move the plant around to different locations – bringing it to a prominent position while its flowers are at their best and placing it in a more out-of-the-way spot at other times, for instance.
Camellias are hardy, and there is no need to move plants in containers into a protected location during the winter (except for the rare occasions when temperatures will go below 20 degrees and the root ball might freeze). You do have the option, however, to move the plant inside on nights when hard freezes are predicted to save the open flowers from injury.
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.