Camellias in the Landscape
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There is something to be said about a species of plant that enables us to enjoy a pretty, and sometimes fragrant bloom when most other plants have gone into their dormant stage. When days grow short and light seems to fade, Camellias come to the forefront and give us a splendid show from early fall to winter to early spring. Don’t they deserve to be in our landscape?
There are over two hundred species of Camellias and thousands of varieties worldwide. Most are grown for tea production including green, white, black and oolong teas. Here in North Carolina, they are mainly grown for their ornamental value with flowers in white and shades of pink and red. The two most common species are japonica and sasanqua and their cultivated hybrids. Camellia japonica will reach up to twenty feet tall and from six to ten feet wide. These towering evergreens flower from early winter to spring.
Camellia sasanqua will grow to ten feet tall and three to five feet wide. Though smaller than the japonica, they have more profuse blooms from late fall through winter. A third species of Camellia, the Camellia sinensis (tea Camellia) can also be grown in our state. As its name implies, it is mostly used for tea production. Although it also blooms, it is not normally used for landscape purposes.
Camellias can be useful as specimen plants, as borders or hedges, as foundation plantings and as screens. They prefer acidic, well-drained soil located in semi-shade with protection from afternoon sun. They flower anywhere from three to six weeks. Planting different varieties throughout the landscape can help ensure a succession of color from September through May. Allow a good amount of space as they are shallow-rooted and slow growing. Mulch well and provide plenty of water. A split application of fertilizer containing ten to sixteen percent nitrogen is recommended in spring.
Fungal diseases of Camellias include dieback, flower blight, root rot, and leaf gall. Try to use resistant cultivars. Good drainage and removal of infected twigs, flowers, and debris will help minimize spread. If use of a fungicide is necessary, check with your local extension office. Camellias boast several types of scale pests. Tea scale, camellia scale, and peony scale are the most common. Look for yellow blotches on the upper surface of leaves as the weather warms. Control with insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils can be effective, but timing is key as these little buggers are only vulnerable at certain stages in their development.
Camellias have been around for hundreds of years. They can be long-lived and add beauty to the landscape with their attractive foliage and colorful blooms. Give them the proper care and growing conditions and you will be richly rewarded, even during the darkest of days.
Gail Griffin is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.