Camellias are evergreen woody shrubs that have deep green foliage and spectacular flowers. Native to East and Southern Asia, camellias thrive in warm winter areas in the U.S. and survive temperatures as low as 5 degrees F. Camellias grow at a moderate rate and make good container plants. Glossy clean foliage covers the plant year round. Camellias are dependable shrubs and relatively maintenance free. Care depends on what variety you choose.
Camellia Japonica does well in dappled shade. Mature tree canopies provide an ideal blend of sun and shade for the plants. Camellia sasanqua is more sun-tolerant. It blooms earlier than Camellia Japonicas and has more of a willowy growth habit and delicate flowers. Camellia sinensis grows to about 10 feet tall with a dense growth habit. The white flowers are small and fragrant. Tea comes from Camellia sinensis leaves and the shrub can be pruned into a hedge. Camellia reticulata is a more tender variety with enormous flowers and floppy growth habits. Mature bushes can reach 20 feet in height. They do not do well when pruned. Allow space for the open large growth habits of this variety. Higo Camellias from Japan have single-petaled flowers. The flower stamens (brushy centers) are often large and prominent. Japanese floral arrangers prize the flowers for their elegant look.
Camellias need fast-draining soil that is slightly acidic. Amend your ground soil with lots of humus--grow container camellias in pure peat moss or peat moss mixed with potting soil.
Camellias do well in garden settings that provide some protection from intense sun and wind. Plant camellias so that the root ball is slightly above the soil level. Never cover the base of the plant with soil. Build up a basin around the plant and keep it moist but not wet.
All camellias do well in semi-shade. Japonicas prefer more shade, particularly in hot, arid climates. Old specimens tolerate full sun. Sasanquas do well with more sun. All flowers benefit from some sun when they are in bloom--the lighter colored flowers tend to fade in direct intense sunlight. Whereas camellia plants (with the exception of the more tender reticulata variety) survive sub-freezing temperatures, the flower buds and blossoms might freeze and drop off the plant.
Camellias need moisture but should never stand in water. The plants do not need much fertilizer. Add any fertilizer sparingly--it is better too use too little than too much. Cottonseed meal or a camellia blend fertilizer works well. Ask at your local nursery for advice--exact blends needed depend on local soils. Water the camellia well before fertilizing--the plant must be moist to avoid damaging it. Excess fertilizer can cause leaf drop.
Camellias are largely pest-free. Leaf burn occurs from exposure to too much sun. Brown spots on flowers can be petal blight--a fungal infection that can spread to other plants ruining the blooms. Prevent petal blight by picking up any fallen blooms immediately. Frequently sweep the area under flowering plants and dispose of the debris. Plants suffering from inadequate drainage can develop root rot and die.
Camellias work well in the back of planting beds. The green foliage provides good contrast to other perennials year round. Small, medium or large blooms make camellias the focal point from autumn to spring. White flowering varieties brighten shady spots in the garden.