Trees, Shrubs & Landscaping
How to Grow Camellias
A plant with exotic-looking flowers that bloom during the grayest months? Yes, please!
Camellias seem exotic, and they are—they’re native to Asia—but that doesn’t mean they’re difficult to grow. Here’s why you’ll want to make room in your garden for these blooming beauties: Camellias put on a show when everything else is headed to bed for the winter, with flowers opening from mid fall to early spring. Because they’re broadleaf evergreens, camellias make great screening plants to block views of your neighbors’ ugly fences or trampolines. Camellia flowers look like roses—but roses blooming in the winter on trees! They’re simply gorgeous additions to warm weather winter gardens.
How to Choose Camellias
There are 2 main types of camellias: Japanese camellias (winter bloomers) and sasanqua camellias (fall bloomers). Here’s what to consider when choosing which camellias to grow:
- How fast they grow: Sasanqua camellias are the faster growing of the 2 main camellia types, producing a nice evergreen screen in a few years. Japanese camellias are slower.
- What the flowers look like: Japanese camellia flowers are winners when it comes to variety, though, blooming in a wide range of white, pink, red, and multi-colored patterns with single and double flowers. Sasanqua camellias have lovely flowers, but they’re generally smaller. The big thing sasanquas have going for them is that they bloom in the late fall and very early winter, when everything else is taking a break. Many varieties are also quite fragrant.
- How much sunlight they can take: Japanese camellias will get sunburned if they don’t have some shade. Sasanquas bloom best with at least 6 hours of sun per day.
- How much space they need: All camellias can be pruned to remain small, but if you don’t want to have to remember to get out the clippers every year, choose one to fit your planting area. Sasanqua camellias can reach 5 to 25 feet at maturity, depending on the variety. Japanese camellias are smaller. They can become quite dense with leaves, but grow slowly and take decades to reach heights above 6 to 8 feet.
When to Plant Camellias
The best time to plant camellias is in fall or early spring. Fall is best in warmer areas, as it gives the plants time to grow deep root systems without the stress of summer heat. In cooler areas, plant in the spring for best results. If your only choice is to plant in late spring or early summer, so be it, but just know that you’ll need to water more frequently to keep plants from getting stressed out.
Where to Plant Camellias
Camellias grow best in moist, well-drained soil that’s slightly acidic (use a soil test kit to find out), so that’s a must. Before you dig, check the plant tag to see what the eventual height of your camellia will be and make sure it has enough vertical space. Also, consider how much sunlight you have available: Japanese camellias do best with a bit of morning sun and afternoon shade or dappled sun all day, while sasanqua camellias prefer full sun. Most camellias will survive the winter in zones 7 to 10 (plus there are some new varieties that will also survive in zone 6).
How to Prepare the Soil for Planting Camellias
Camellias grow best in somewhat acidic (soil pH 5.5 to 6.5), slightly moist, well-drained soil that’s high in organic matter. It’s always a good idea to get a soil test before planting camellias to see if you need to add lime to raise the pH or sulfur to lower it.
Once you’ve done a soil test and made any needed pH adjustments, give your plants an excellent start by preparing the planting area with Miracle-Gro® Garden Soil for Flowers, which is designed to help flowers grow bigger, with more blooms (vs. unfed plants). Simply blend equal amounts of bagged garden soil and your existing soil.
How to Plant Camellias
1. Dig a hole that’s about twice as wide and just as deep as the plant’s root ball.
2. Drop a Miracle-Gro® Quick Start® Planting Tablet into the bottom of the hole to give your camellia a strong start. Cover it lightly with soil.
3. Remove the plant from its container and set it in the hole so the top of the root ball is 3 inches above the surrounding soil.
4. Fill in around the root ball with the garden soil/native soil mixture, pressing on it to pack it firmly.
5. Leave the top of the root ball exposed. (Don’t cover it with new soil.)
6. Water thoroughly.
7. Add a layer of mulch over the soil surrounding (but not covering) the camellia root ball. You may also want to create a little ring in the soil around the root ball to help keep water from running off.
How to Water Camellias
Because camellias are evergreens with shiny leaves, it can be difficult to know when they need water. Here’s how to tell: Stick your finger in the root ball. If it feels dry 2 to 3 inches down into the soil, you should water. In general, if you planted during the fall, you’ll need to water only about once every week or two, assuming you haven’t had any rain. If you plant in the spring, water deeply once a week for the first month, then cut back to every other week. To make sure you’re giving each plant enough moisture, hold the hose over the root ball and count to 10 while watering.
How to Feed Camellias
Camellias like to eat! They are easy to grow but will put on a much bigger flower show if, in addition to providing them with great soil, you give them regular meals. A month after planting, feed your camellias with Miracle-Gro® LiquaFeed® Flowering Trees & Shrubs Plant Food, which is specially formulated to deliver just the right nutrients. Be sure to follow the directions on the package so you’ll know when and how much to apply.
How to Prevent Most Pest Problems with Camellias
Camellias can suffer from some pest and disease problems. The good news, though, is that a lot of those issues can be avoided simply by regularly cleaning up around the plants and pruning them properly. Many camellia diseases stick around in leaves or flowers that have fallen from the plants, so be sure to rake them up and throw them away (don’t compost them). If you continue to have problems with disease or insects, you may want to treat plants with a disease and insect control spray designed for flowering plants, such as Ortho® Rose & Flower Insect & Disease Control Concentrate.
How to Prune Camellias
While you don’t have to prune your camellias, you may want to. See, pruning actually encourages more growth. Instead of trying to shear your camellias into shaped hedges, though, simply use hand pruners to remove individual branches. Follow these tips:
- To control the size of your camellia shrub, prune the ends of the branches right after the plant finishes blooming.
- To “open up” a plant that’s growing too densely, prune some of the interior branches back to the main trunk at any time.
- Remove rubbing or crossing branches and any dead twigs whenever you see them.
- To keep the shrub looking its best, always cut back to just in front of a leaf.
How to Grow Camellias: Recap
- Choose camellias that will grow well in your garden conditions.
- Prepare the soil by adding Miracle-Gro® Garden Soil for Flowers.
- Plant camellias in full sun or partial shade (depending on the variety), in fall or spring.
- Water plants thoroughly at planting and throughout the season as needed.
- Feed plants regularly with Miracle-Gro® LiquaFeed® Flowering Trees & Shrubs Plant Food.
- Remove dead blossoms and leaves from around the plant to help keep them disease-free.
- Prune camellias to encourage more growth.