Sasanqua camellias

These camellias bloom earliest
Lauren Bonar Swezey

First to bloom are the sasanquas ― the earliest ones start in September. By November, almost all sasanquas are in full bloom. Sasanquas come in a diverse range of growth habits, from spreading and vinelike to upright and bushy. Flowers range from 2 to 2 1/2 inches across.

Mounding ground covers. Grow these 2- to 4-foot-tall plants with a 3-foot spread below windows, in borders, and as low, unclipped hedges. Rose-red 'Shishi-Gashira' (double) and soft pink 'Showa-No-Sakae' (semidouble to peony) ― both sold as C. sasanqua although they've been reclassified as C. hiemalis ― are two of the best varieties for these uses.

Espaliers. Compact, upright sasanquas grow well against walls and trellises (prune to direct growth). Try white 'Setsugekka' (semidouble) or orange red 'Yuletide' (single).

Lacy hedges. Upright, shrubby sasanquas look attractive softening a wall. Prune to keep plants 3 to 4 feet thick. Best choices include three singles ― 'Cleopatra' (rose pink), 'Hana Jiman' (white edged with pink), and 'Hugh Evans' (pink) ― and the semidouble 'Kanjiro' (rose red).