Camellia season nearing end

Richard Bogren, Owings, Allen D.  |  3/6/2015 11:26:35 PM

Camellias are a widely grown shrub for midwinter and late winter flowering in Louisiana. (Photo by Allen Owings)

Variegated camellia blooms are popular with home gardeners. (Photo by Allen Owings)

News Release Distributed 03/06/15

By Allen Owings
LSU AgCenter horticulturist

HAMMOND, La. – Beneath the mighty, majestic live oaks surrounded by gardenias, Southern magnolias, azaleas and sweet olives stands the camellia – what many in the South may refer to as “the queen of the garden.”

The Latin or scientific name of the plant is Camellia japonica. It is a native of Japan, China and Korea and was brought to Europe from Asia sometime in the 1700s. It is believed to have been introduced to the United States near Charleston, South Carolina, in 1786. However, the first formal records show they appeared in New Jersey in 1897.

The camellia japonica, or Japanese camellia, is a small, flowering evergreen tree or medium shrub that has become an essential part of our Southern landscape and heritage. Known for their oval dark glossy green foliage and large beautiful flowers, camellias brighten our Louisiana landscape during winter and early spring.

Camellia blooms are ending around the state now, but you still have time to add new camellia plants to your gardens before the more stressful summer growing and planting conditions arrive.

Camellias are long-living, slow-growing plants that can range in size from 6 to 12 feet in height and 4 to 8 feet in width, depending on the variety. Often a single-trunked shrub with a shallow root system, camellias are upright and oval in shape. It is extremely important to avoid cultivating or disturbing the soil around them to prevent damage.

The size of the flower can vary from 2 1/2 inches to over 6 inches in diameter. Its colors can range from pure white to all shades of pink to the deepest of red with some varieties having multi-colored or variegated flowers of white, pink and red streaks all within the same flower. The flower’s rose-like flower petals can be a single, semi-double or double form and last up to 10 days or more before the petals begin to drop. Flowers also can be cut and floated in a shallow dish of water as a table arrangement.

Because of the numerous varieties to choose from, shop for camellias at your local nurseries during wintertime. Plant them in a part-sun to part-shade location that receives around four to six hours of direct morning sunlight with protection from the hot afternoon sun. Choosing a spot that receives bright, dappled shade throughout the day will prevent stress on the plant and prevent the scorching or burning of the leaves and fading of the flowers.

Once established, camellias are typically low-maintenance. They are acid-loving plants that require a well-drained soil with a pH ranging from 5.5 to 6.5. They can withstand some heavy soils; however, they perform better when planted where high organic matter – such as compost, finely ground pine bark or rotted manure – has been incorporated into the soil.

When planting camellias it is important that the upper surface of the root ball is slightly above the existing soil level. After planting, water it thoroughly to remove any air pockets and to settle the plant in. Apply several inches of mulch, preferably pine straw, to help maintain moisture and prevent weeds or damage from lawn mowers or string trimmers.

Camellias should be fertilized in March to early April when new growth begins. A good, slow-release fertilizer labeled for acid-loving plants works best. Although excellent drainage is necessary for camellias to survive, they need adequate amounts of water, especially during the hot, dry spells in summer.

Watch out for several insects that can harm camellias, such as aphids, spider mites and tea scale. The most serious pest is the tea scale, which primarily feeds on the underside of the leaves but can be found on the upper surface during heavy infestations. If a camellia is infected with tea scale, the undersides of the leaves will be covered with white and brown, slightly fuzzy masses that will eventually lead to yellow blotches on the upper surface of the leaf. Plants that are infested with this pest may have poor vigor and will not bloom well.

Tea scale will not generally go away by itself and will require the use of a horticultural oil to be controlled effectively. This should be done in fall, winter or early spring when temperatures are between 45 and 85 degrees. Complete saturation of the insects is needed. To prevent reoccurrence, a systemic insecticide can be used.

Whether used as focal point, mixed-shrub planting or massed in a grouped planting in a shady woodland garden, camellias make any landscape stand out. We are fortunate that our climate and growing conditions allow us to enhance our gardens with these magnificent plants. So when considering a plant for your landscape, don’t forget camellias.

You can see more about work being done in landscape horticulture by visiting the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station website. Also, like us on Facebook. You can find an abundance of landscape information for both home gardeners and industry professionals at both sites.

Rick Bogren

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