Camellia is the belle of the garden ball, decked out in shiny green foliage and sporting a heavenly array of bloom forms, colors and scents. Although there are a multitude of species and over 2,300 cultivars, Camellia sinensis is the most widely known as the plant from which tea leaves are taken. This lovely shrub will provide years of summer beauty in your garden.
Choose a plant that is free from visible disease in the form of yellow leaves, wilting, cankers on stems and general lack of vigor. There are midseason and late-blooming camellias, with six distinct sub groups of bloom forms from which to select. Each form presents a variety of color combinations sure to please.
Select a location with excellent drainage because bloom production will suffer if the roots are allowed to become soggy. Part shade is essential, not only for protection against the intense summer sun but also as a buffer against harsh winter frost or cold. Camellias might grow as tall as 25 feet. But a height and spread of under 12 feet is typical, so plan accordingly.
Prepare soil and amend if pH is outside of the 5.0 to 6.5 suggested range. Work the soil to a depth of 12 inches to encourage room for roots. Dig a hole about twice as wide as the root ball but flush with the root ball crown because camellia roots spread shallowly. Place the ball with burlap covering cut back at least 8 inches into the hole, and back fill with soil until flush with the ball crown. Firm the surface soil to reduce air pockets and break up clods, and apply organic mulch to 3 inches deep for root protection.
Apply fertilizer three to four times during the season. Spread 1 tbsp. per foot height of the plant across the surface to the drip line for best results, followed by a deep watering. Recommended application indicators are when the plant first shows signs of new growth, then once or twice during flowering season and once just prior to winter. Take care not to fertilize during the warm late season because new growth might be stimulated and then damaged when the cold sets in.
Water every 10 to 14 days to a soil depth of 18 inches to encourage deep root establishment. Bud dropping is a sign of under watering, so watch the camellia carefully during spells of dry, hot weather.
Do not over prune camellias because they will naturally branch and shape themselves without heavy cutting. Pinch off the tips of new growth in early spring to encourage branching in young plants. Interior, non-flowering limbs smaller than 4 inches can be removed to prevent tea scale, a common disease of the camellia.