As autumn sets in, the cool air carries with it the promise of camellia blossoms and all the memories they stir. Filling our winter days with blooms as beautiful as any rose, the camellia is deeply entrenched in the Southern landscape. A gardening friend once told me, “I will never move to a place where I cannot grow camellias.” Such is the passion this beauty instills. If you are looking to add some Southern charm to your garden, look no further than the camellia. These five tips will get you headed in the right direction.
1. Buy in Bloom
Camellias bloom during the winter, when weather is cool and plants are in a dormant state. Flowering happens to occur during ideal planting times, from October through November for Camellia sasanqua and February through March for Camellia japonica. This gives gardeners the advantage of seeing plants in bloom before buying. Visit a local nursery to explore the wide range of camellia blossom colors, sizes and shapes.
2. Plant a One-Two Punch
Several species of camellia are used for ornamental gardening and each has a distinct bloom time. Combining several species and varieties provides a continuum of color through the fall and winter months. Among the earliest to bloom is October Magic® Ivory Camellia, Camellia hiemalis, flowering from September to October. Follow these with any number of Camellia sasanqua varieties such as Diana™. As the year ends, Bella Rouge™ Camellia comes into bloom from November through December. When the Camellia sasanqua have finished blooming, Camellia japonica will continue the show through winter’s end.
3. Chill Out
Boundaries seem to be ever changing in the plant world, and cold tolerance of camellia is one such moving target. Newer cultivars and hybrids have extended the camellia-growing range northward. The lovely October Magic® Bride Camellia is a white Camellia sasanqua that can be grown in zone 6 gardens. Remember, camellias grown in northern climates may need some shelter from winter sun and wind.
4. Small and Sassy
Semi-dwarf cultivars invite camellias into the compact garden. The floriferous October Magic® Pink Perplexion™ and glamorous October Magic® Ruby Camellias have compact habits, reaching a mature size of 4-5 feet tall and wide. For big impact in small spaces, October Magic® Rose Camellia has a narrow, almost columnar form, growing 6-8 feet tall, but spreading only 3-4 feet wide.
5. Site Selection
Even more important than finding the right camellia is providing it a proper home in the landscape. Camellias are susceptible to root diseases and competition. Good drainage is essential. Plant camellias in loose, well-drained soil; avoid heavy clay soils and places where water sits. If drainage is a problem, amend soil with compost and plant on mounds or berms. While camellias need shade, they are shallow-rooted and do not tolerate competition – plant in the shade of buildings and other structures or under trees that do not have aggressive root systems.