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  HOME AND GARDEN » House Plants  

Plants for your home (By Mary Efanti)


Origin and Description

These gorgeous shrubs, which are clothed in lustrous, dark green foliage, are natives of Japan and China. The genus was named for George Kamel, a Jesuit missionary who travelled in Asia and studied the flora of the Philippines. Red camellias symbolize intrinsic worth and white blossoms mean loveliness. Displayed at Korean weddings as far back as 1200 BC, camellias represent longevity and faithfulness. Camellias produce large, elegant, rose-like blossoms that range in color from pale ivory to shell pink to glistening crimson. The flowers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The flowers are prized, but so are the glossy leaves that stay a deep, shiny green all year. It is a slow grower, but eventually will reach up to 20' tall. There are thousands of varieties available to the gardener, which have been derived mainly from four species: C. japonica, C. sasanqua, C. reticulata, and C. saluenensis. Most common is Camellia japonica. All varieties have flowers ranging from single to double and come in red, pink, white and rose. Over 3,000 varieties, cultivars and hybrids of Camellia japonica are cultivated. Camellia japonica grows to an average height of about 8’, with some spreading varieties topping off at 4 feet. If grown indoors as a container plant, it will flower in January and February. Outside they generally bloom in March and April. This ancient oriental species forms a dense pyramid.


The glossy evergreen leaves and showy winter flowers, make growing Camellias extremely rewarding. They can be grown as a container plant in a greenhouse, atrium, or sunroom or as a garden plant outdoors in a sheltered location. With proper siting and a little extra care, Camellias can bring you years of enjoyment in the garden. By choosing cultivars that are hardy for your location and following the cultural recommendations below, you can extend the flowering season of your garden right through the winter.

Temperature and Light

Camellias require a humid, temperate climate to thrive. They are fairly hardy and easy to grow, being able to withstand temperatures as low as 0º F, though some thought should be put into deciding the place where your shrubs are to be placed. Camellias need high temperatures and long days in order to develop their flower buds. However, for them to open, cool temperatures and short days are required. Flower buds will most likely be damaged if they become frozen and thaw rapidly, which will most likely happen if they are grown facing east where the morning sun will quickly thaw them. They should be placed in filtered shade. Generally, the warmer the climate, the less direct sun is needed. In climates where Camellias are not hardy, they can be grown in greenhouses with a minimum temperature of 45º to 55º F.


Camellias need moist, well-drained, crumbly soil that has been enhanced with organic matter and has a pH of about 6.0. Soil that has high alkalinity will eventually kill your Camellias, even if they are constantly treated. The ground your shrubs are planted in should be firmed but not packed down as their delicate, fibrous roots grow shallowly. It is beneficial to mulch around your plants to keep the ground from freezing too quickly. Camellias that are grown in containers need a loose, slightly acidic potting soil. Soil consisting of two parts fertile loam or good garden soil, one part peat moss, and one part sand is recommended for these plants. A little dried cow manure and bone meal added is also beneficial.


Camellia prefers rich moist soil, but is adaptable. Special precautions need to be taken when watering your plants. Over watering or letting the roots dry out will cause your Camellias to lose their flower buds. Additionally, container grown Camellias should be allowed to dry out between waterings.


To promote flowering, Camellias should be pruned when they are actively growing in the spring and no later than mid-June. Pruning should be done right after flowering before new buds develop. It consists of removing dead twigs and branches that extend above the outline of the plant and thinning the centers of the shrubs to allow air to circulate. Plants that have outgrown their space can be pruned back hard and sprayed several times a day until new growth has formed.


Fertilizing in May and June will also help with flower bud production. If growing indoors, your plant can be fertilized every 6 weeks whenever it is actively growing. It is not necessary to feed while in bloom.


You should check for pests frequently. Scale insects are the worst and cause the foliage to yellow and fall. Spider mites are troublesome in hot, dry weather and cause the foliage to turn bronze and speckled, especially along the main vein. Camellia canker and dieback is a fungal disease in hot, humid weather and can kill whole plants. Flower blight causes brown spots on the petals and deformed flowers, though it won't kill the shrub. It is also important to remove spent flowers and keep debris from lying around the base of the plant to inhibit any fungal or disease problems. If the soil doesn't have adequate drainage, the roots may rot.


Camellias can be grown from seed, but garden varieties do not come true that way. It is better to take cuttings after flowering, about 4 inches long, and insert them into pots of coarse sand in which a very small amount of peat has been added. Varieties may also be increased by grafting on plants grown from seeds or cuttings. This should be done about three weeks before growth starts in the spring. The cleft graft is commonly used and the scion is inserted close to the ground. In outdoor grafting, after the scion is inserted and firmly tied in place, it is covered to its tip with sand or clean soil and it is covered with a glass jar until growth begins, after which it is removed. A special propagating frame in a greenhouse may also be used for handling grafts. They are kept in it until union has taken place. If seeds are used, they should be sown in pots, flats or beds filled with the same soil mixture that is used for potting. Seeds should be sown soon after they've matured and have been gathered


Mary Efanti




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