Camelias are a perennial favorite of gardeners, especially in the southern United States. These Asian natives are prized for their bright and showy off season flowers and thick glossy evergreen foliage. Hybridizers have developed hundreds of different cultivars to choose from. One type of Camellia, the tea plant, is grown as an agricultural crop throughout the world in equatorial regions.
The commonly grown Camellias that are grown for landscape use are generally hybrids of C. japonica, C. reticulata, C. oleifera, and C. sasanqua. These are the large sized broad leafed evergreen shrubs that often flower in the fall, winter and early spring, which is rare among flowering ornamentals that usually bloom during spring and summer. Flowers colors range from shades of white, red, and pink. Depending on the type, they can grow as tall as 20 feet and as wide as 10 feet, but most stay smaller.
Camellia sinensis is a very important agricultural crop. This is the plant that is the source of tea. The leaves are harvested, dried, cured then brewed to make the beverage people around the world enjoy. C. sinensis can grow to a height of 50 feet but is usually kept pruned down for easy harvesting. It grows in tropical and subtropical climates and can not tolerate frost or freezing. It likes rich well draining soil and humid warm air.
Care for ornamental camellias is easy. They grow in USDA zones 7 and 8 and warmer. Some varieties have been bred to be hardy in zone 6. The prefer part shade, with red flowered cultivars able to tolerate some sun. They do not like quick temperature changes and should be planted in areas that protect them from strong wind. They like a loose well draining acidic soil with a pH range of 5.5 to 6.5.
Ornamental Camellias are best used in group plantings. Scattering Camellias around the garden tends to make it look too busy. They are great for adding color in the fall through spring when most other flowering plants are in their dormant period. They are generally planted under taller shade trees and against the sides of buildings that block the wind.
Camellias do not like to stay wet. properly aerated soil is essential for good growth and preventing rot. Peat moss in the soil will keep it too wet. they do not like to be overly fertilized. Do not apply fertilizer for the first year or two after planting. Fertilizing too much leads to sporadic open growth rather than dense foliage.