If you don’t have a camellia in your garden, or you have several, now is the perfect time to add at least one more. Many are in bloom this time of the year and lots more will be coming into bloom over the next several months. A walk though the garden yesterday showed at least a dozen with big fat bud or in flower. Camellias are not picky. As the State Flower of Alabama they are a natural for our gardens. Camellias prefer acid soil, like azaleas, and gardenias. If you do not know your soil pH, that is, whether you have acid or alkaline soil, now is the perfect time to perform a soil test with a kit from the Calhoun County Extension Office. Soil tests are inexpensive and can save you lots of money in incorrect or unnecessary fertilizer and sickly plants. Camellias need well drained soil, too. They prefer dappled sun light; shade through pine trees is great. Although there are a few who can take full sun, but the hot afternoon sun is never good for them. The early morning sun can often burn the blossoms and full shade may hamper their blooming. Camellias must be watered until they are acclimated to their new home but once they are content, they can be quite drought tolerant. The biggest no- no when it comes to planting is planting it too deep. Camellias should be planted high, that is with the top of the soil line in the pot about an inch over the ground level. If the gardener continues to pile lots of mulch around the trunk, the plant to be will be too deep. Mulch up around the trunk is never a good thing as this habit encourages disease and insects. However, a nice layer of mulch around the roots keeps the soil cool in summer and warmer in winter, keeps down weeds, and protects a plant from encroaching weed eaters.
There is a huge choice of camellias on the market. First of all, there are camellia sasanquas which bloom from early fall to December; then there are the camellia japonicas which bloom from December to spring. Sasanquas typically have more but smaller flowers. Japonicas are noted for their magnificent large blooms. I have seen camellias with white, yellow, red, pink, and variegated flowers. There are camellias that grow in an upright form; others that grow in a spreading form. I have seen them more than 12 feet high also. There are lower growing ones like ‘Shishi-Gahsira’. It is important to know the mature size of your plant so that you give it the room it needs to be happy. The only pruning a camellia should ever need might be to prune off the tall sprouts it sometimes grows.
Take a trip to the nursery and look at the camellias. You will come home with more than one. Guaranteed!