What Is a Camellia?

Overview

A camellia is a type of flowering shrub that thrives in the deep south. Providing beautiful winter flowers and evergreen foliage, a camellia brings year-round interest. There are hundreds of cultivars of the camellia available, with blooms ranging in color from white to dark pink to red.

Zone Considerations

Camellias are hearty in USDA Zones seven and eight. Some cultivars can survive in Zone six, and new varieties are being developed continually that boast improved cold tolerance. Among the more cold tolerant selections is the Camellia sasanqua, which can bear temperatures as low as five degrees. However, even the heartier selections can be damaged by sudden changes in temperature.

Light Needs

Camellias prefer a site that offers partial shade--they don't tolerate early morning or late afternoon sun well. The cultivars that bloom red (such as Camellia sasanqua) tend to be more sun tolerant than those that bloom white or pink. In the winter, camellias may need protection from both direct sun and drying winds.

Soil Needs

Camellias tend to thrive in well-drained, slightly acidic soil. A pH of around 6.0 to 6.5 is considered ideal for the plants. When planting, make sure to allow at least five feet between plants, and avoid sites where the shallow root systems of shade trees compete with your camellia for nutrients.

Landscape Uses

A camellia is a beautiful specimen plant, bringing color and interest to the area where it is planted. As they thrive in partial shade, camellias can liven up a corner of the landscape where other flowering shrubs might fail. Additionally, they bloom when few other plants do: late fall, winter or early spring. Some homeowners use camellias for a hedge planting, as the evergreen foliage provides a nice screen.

Pests and Diseases

Two of the most common and bothersome enemies of the camellia plant are scales and petal blight. Scales are tiny insects that attach themselves to the undersides of leaves and suck plant juices. Affected leaves may turn yellow and have what looks like a white substance on the underside. These can be difficult to eradicate once heavy infestation has occurred, so treat your plant with horticultural oils designed to eliminate scale at the first sign of a problem. Petal blight is a fungal problem that causes unattractive brown spots on petals and leaves. These don't respond as well to oils, but you can prevent the spread of the problem by removing and disposing of affected leaves and blooms.

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About this Author

Dana Hall McCain is a freelance writer based in Dothan, Ala., and is a a regular contributor to numerous regional publications. She writes features and columns on a variety of topics, including the outdoors, faith and health/wellness. She received a Bachelor of Arts from Auburn University in public relations/communication in 1995.