Quick facts and care essentials
• Climate zones 4-9, 12, 14-24, 26-31 and warmer parts of 32 for most; hardy types throughout 32
• Partial shade
• Regular to moderate watering
Camellias belong on the list of best-loved shrubs in North America. Rounded, shiny green leaves are 2 to 3 inches long; delicate but showy flowers in white and many shades of pink and red reach 3 to 5 inches across.
Buy and plant camellias while they’re in bloom. You’ll be able to choose just the flower type and color you want ― and strange as it may seem, blooming plants are also at their most dormant stage, so they’ll suffer minimal stress from planting.
Camellias prefer well-amended, slightly acid soil. Their roots grow near the surface, so it’s better not to set out other plants beneath them or cultivate the soil near them. Apply a 2-inch-thick mulch around the plants to protect roots from extremes of heat and cold. Feed with specially formulated camellia fertilizer, following package directions for timing and amounts.
Prune camellias immediately after bloom, making thinning cuts so flowers aren’t hidden and growth doesn’t become too dense. You can also make heading cuts to keep shrubs from getting too lanky on top. Camellia petal blight, evidenced by brown spots on flowers, is a disease unique to these plants. Control it by picking off infected blooms and buds, clearing all infected petals from the ground, and removing and replacing mulch.
C. japonica. The most familiar camellias are cultivars of C. japonica. For almost continuous bloom, plant more than one kind. Some start blooming in November, others in early spring; still others flower from midspring until May. Flowers may be single, semidouble, or double. Although they can attain great size with age, most grow 6 to 12 feet tall and wide.
C. oleifera. In recent years, hybrids of C. oleifera have given gardeners in colder zones a wider choice of camellia flower colors and sizes: before the introduction of these plants, small-flowered species camellias were the only types able to withstand the colder temperatures. Given some shelter from winter sun and wind, C. oleifera hybrids tolerate lows of -15 °F/-26 °C.
C. sasanqua. Gardeners living in mild-winter climates can include hybrids of C. sasanqua among their camellias. Most bloom from late autumn through winter, bearing single to semidouble blossoms. They tolerate more sun than C. japonica and have more pliable stems, making them good candidates for training against a wall. They range from 1 ½ to 15 feet tall, with equal spread.