Most gardeners allow their winter-blooming camellias to slowly grow into natural, massive shrubs over the years. However, occasional pruning of twigs, dense foliage masses or scraggly interior branches promotes vigor and often leads to better flowering. Flower bud pruning reduces the number of buds in a cluster, encouraging the fewer remaining buds to grow more robustly.
Examine the entire camellia shrub, looking for dead branches in the canopy and for aborted twigs or scraggly interior twigs.
Remove these dead or sickly twigs with the hand pruners, making cuts a quarter inch above a trunk or lower branch junction. If you choose to only reduce the length of a sickly twig to encourge new growth, make the pruning cut a quarter inch above a dormant leaf bud.
Thin-out densely foliaged areas on the shrub. Removal of some leaves and twigs increases the penetration of light and air into the plant structure, as well as improving coverage of any pest sprays that may need application later in the year. Always make twig or leaf cuts with the pruners a quarter to an eighth inch above another leaf or twig.
Cut back any errant branches, those that are irregularly long or make the shrub look lopsided, into at least year-old woody parts. If you examine the bark, the newest growth is smooth and glossy, whereas a light, grayish bark exists on tissue that is at least 1 year old. Make the cut a quarter to a half inch above a leaf scar, existing leaf or twig, or dormant bud.
Permit the camellia to recuperate and grow across the summer and autumn, regenerating new branches and leaves. Monitor the growth response of the shrub throughout the year. What you witness helps guide your pruning plans for next year when trimming the camellia.