Camellias provide a splash of colour when little else is blooming during the winter and spring. They are easy to grow and popular for their bold evergreen foliage and abundance of showy, white, pink, red, or yellow flowers. An elegant shrub for a border or woodland garden and make excellent specimen plants both outdoors in open ground or in containers.
Camellias are woodland plants that grow best in light, partial or dappled shade, in a site sheltered from cold, dry winds and avoiding early morning sun, as buds and flowers may be damaged by cold winds and late frosts. They prefer free-draining conditions with plenty of organic matter such as leaf mould, incorporated into the soil. Camellias must have plenty of water during their growing season, between April and October; the critical period for watering is when the flower buds are forming, from midsummer to early autumn.
Camellias are best pruned in spring immediately after flowering if needed. They will tolerate hard pruning but generally only need to be lightly trimmed or have any branches that spoil the appearance of the plant removed, and pruned back to an outward facing leaf node.
Camellias are evergreen shrubs their leaves are replaced every few years; each year a proportion of the foliage (mainly older leaves near the base and within the plant) are shed, usually in spring and summer. This is normal and not a cause for concern.
The ideal time to plant Camellias is autumn to late spring. When planting in a border they prefer moist but well drained, humus-rich, acidic soil; with a pH of 5.5 – 6.5. If the level is higher or lower than this they are unable to absorb the necessary minerals for healthy growth.
They do not like to be planted too deep; the top of the root ball should be level with the firmed soil.
An acidic fertiliser, sulphate of ammonia or sulphate of potash can be added to the soil when back filling the hole. If you prefer to use organic fertilisers: blood, fish and bone or seaweed products can be used instead.
Once planted it is a good idea to add a mulch of leaf mould or shredded bark, 5-7cm (2-3in) deep to hold in the moisture and keep the roots cool.
Apply a balanced liquid fertiliser in mid-spring and again if necessary in the early summer but do not overfeed, feeding after July can also cause bud drop.
Camellias are easy to grow in containers of ericaceous (acidic) potting compost. Add ericaceous, slow-release fertiliser pellets to the potting compost when planting up the container.
Rainwater is ideal for watering Camellias; tap water in hard water districts often contains too much calcium; although it can be used satisfactorily for a month or two in the summer.
Top five Camellias:-
Camelia ‘Nuccios Jewel’ – produces large delicate blooms from February to April, against glossy green foliage. Maximum height 1.8m (6’), maximum spread 1.2m (4’).
Camellia japonica ‘Brushfield’s Yellow’ – have anemone form, double flowers which are creamy white with a light yellow centre during January to April. It is an upright evergreen shrub the one pictured is grown as a standard which will grow up to 2m. Prune immediately after flowering and keep watered in the summer to ensure plenty of flowers for the following year.
Camellia x williamsii ‘Debbie’ – produces magnificent large blooms from February to April. The williamsii varieties shed their flowers as they fade and have smaller leaves so are generally better able to cope with more exposed positions. These hybrids also flower early and over a long period even in areas with low light intensity such as the north of Britain. Maximum height 1.8m (6’) spread 1.2m (4’).
Camellia japonica ‘Nobilisima’ – an upright shrub or small tree with glossy green leaves and double peony, pure white flowers during December to January. Maximum height 2.5m-4m (7’-13’) spread 2.5m-4m (7’-13’).
Camellia sansanqua ‘Hugh Evans’ – produces lots of scented flowers through autumn and early winter against glossy, year round foliage on a vigourous upright, spreading plant. Maximum height 1.5m (5’), maximum spread 1.2m (4’).
Although best grown in a sheltered or partially sheltered spot, they will thrive in full sun once established providing the roots are kept cool. Sansanqua varieties are not quite as hardy as williamsii or japonica types so they are best grown against a wall or in a tub that can be overwintered in a cool glasshouse.