Caring for camellias

Some tips to keep those camellias in your garden growing great

Champion camellias
Photo: Norm Plate

Hardiness. Plants grow in Sunset Western Garden Book climate zones 4-9, 12, 14-24 (C. reticulata needs winter protection in zones 4-6; plant it under house eaves). The green buds are fairly frost-resistant, but open flowers can be damaged by cold, especially if the sun hits them early after a frosty night.

Sun protection. Plant C. japonica, C. reticulata, and their hybrids where they're shaded from hot afternoon sun. C. sasanqua can take full sun even in hot, dry climates when given regular water.

Soil. Plant in well-drained, slightly acid soil. If your soil drains poorly, plant in raised beds. Either way, dig a hole twice as wide as the rootball and mix equal parts soil and peat moss.

Water. Keep the soil moist but not wet. During the dry season, check it with a trowel; if dry in the top 4 to 6 inches, water slowly and deeply.

Fertilizer. Use camellia food; begin feeding plants at the first sign of new growth (water well the day before feeding).

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