SHOWING OFF CAMELLIA’S
One of the first flowers I fell in love with when moving to Hilton Head Island were Camellias. I thought they were incredibly enchanting and exquisitely beautiful. The season of bloom for these charmers is between fall and spring which I find further makes them irresistible. Just when the garden has finished its summer glory, this jewel of the flower world is beginning to blossom. I can’t help but smile when I see a vase filled with Camellias perched on my kitchen table. The dark green glossy foliage adds the just the right backdrop to the large ruffled petals. They are one of the quintessential old fashioned southern plants that only get more divine as they age.
What is the difference between a Camellia and a Sasanqua?
Camellias are from a family with numerous species, which sasanqua is one of them. Camellia japonica and Camellia sasanqua are the most commonly planted species here in the lowcountry. Sasanquas bloom in the fall, have dark glossy leaves that are smaller than their japonica counterparts, and their growth pattern is more spreading and graceful. The flowers are smaller but more abundant and they can handle a little more sun. They make wonderful landscape plants that can be used as a focal point, massed, espaliered, or in containers. Japonicas begin blooming in early winter and continuing through spring. They have the largest and showiest flowers of the group and are excellent cut. The habit of this plant is more upright, averaging twelve to fifteen feet at maturity. They too can be used as a focal point or placed in a pot. Other species used here are reticulata, a peony flowered form, and sinensis, the tea Camellia.
Where can I plant a Camellia?
Camellias are naturally found growing in the forest and are native to Japan and China. They are a subtropical plant which makes them ideal in our climate. They prefer high shade but will tolerate some sun. They like a well drained soil, rich in organic matter and a pH between 5 and 6. Their roots are shallow and great care needs to be given not to plant in a low place for they are prone to rot. The addition of compost will help either a sandy or clay soil. Mulch is also beneficial and products such as pinestraw, hardwood or pinebark are great choices. Good air circulation is key. Plantings up against a house, in a tight corner, or beneath heavy shade are not good sites for this plant.
When is the best time to plant?
November through March is the best time for planting and transplanting Camellias. It is during the fall and winter that the roots grow and establish themselves, prior to the flush of new growth in the spring. This also is the season of bloom which makes it both easier and fun to pick the exact flower that you like.
How often do I water and fertilize.
Newly planted Camellias require moderate deep watering weekly or biweekly, in order for them to thrive. Fertilizing three times per year, in March, May, and July, with a slow release granular fertilizer is recommended for proper growth. Nitrogen is needed and excellent sources are found in chicken compost and milorganite. There are fertilizers specifically targeted for Camellias and other acid loving plants.
Do deer like Camellias?
Yes, unfortunately, deer love these plants. They tend to leave old, established plantings alone, desiring newly planted shrubs.
Are Camellias prone to any pests?
Tea scale is the most common and troublesome pest.
Well cared for plants with proper site, good air circulation, soil, water needs and fertilizer will result in an overall healthier plant that is more resistant to pests. Oil sprays are effective when applied at two week intervals with three sprays. Fall and early spring are the best times to spray because excessive heat or cold can result in leaf burn.
When do I prune?
These plants are very slow growing and will not require much pruning. Any dead or diseased wood can be removed at anytime. A light pruning directly following their bloom season is the proper time. Generally, they set their flower buds in June.
What are some favorite varieties of Camellias?
There are thousands of varieties of this treasured delight and it’s rare that I see one that I don’t like. Flower forms vary from single, peony, to double with a few in between. Pinks, reds, whites, and even a few yellow choices abound. I suggest going to your local nursery and picking your favorite.
Where are some public gardens that showcase Camellias?
Middleton Place may have the distinction of having the first Camellias brought to this county in the late 1700s. Some of these original plantings are still present. Magnolia Gardens is another fabulous choice to see hundreds of old established Camellias. Both are located outside Charleston, South Carolina.
Where can I go for more information?
The American Camellia Society @ www.camellias-acs.com