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How to Plant Camellias in the Garden

Lockridge is an avid reader who enjoys learning about beautiful garden plants. Among other things, she has worked with a florist.

Learn how to grow the beautiful, fall- and winter-blooming camellia in your garden.

Learn how to grow the beautiful, fall- and winter-blooming camellia in your garden.

About the Camellia

The camellia is a woody shrub that tends to bloom in the cooler months of fall through early spring. One of the things I love most about the shrub is how the dark, glossy, green leaf complements the colorful rose-shaped bloom. Camellia blooms range in various colors, from whites, yellows, pinks, and reds to bicolored flowers. The blooms can reach up to five inches in diameter.

How Big Do Camellias Grow?

Camellia shrubs frequently grow five to seven feet wide and often reach about 15 feet tall. Since there are more than 300 different species of camellia, the exact size of your shrub will course will depend upon the precise variety of camellia you decide to plant. Although the shrubs can go relatively tall, they only grow about one foot a year.

Landscaping Uses

Due to their dense foliage, landscapers often implement camellias into hedges, use them as anchoring plants, or even highlight them as stand-alone shrubs.

How to Plant Outside

  1. Select a suitable planting location; camellia shrubs growing in a partially shaded to full-sun location with well-draining soil.
  2. Prepare a hole for the camellia. Dig the hole one and a half times as deep and twice as wide as the current pot.
  3. Remove the camellia from the pot and gently spread the roots apart.
  4. Combine the soil from the hole with a generous amount of peat moss or compost.
  5. Set the camellia in the hole and backfill with dirt mixture. Add enough dirt to surround the roots, making sure to keep the shrub at about the same soil height as it was in the pot. Don’t allow the base of the trunk to go below the soil line.
  6. Apply at least two inches of mulch around the base of the shrub to help keep moisture levels high.
  7. Water the plant thoroughly at planting and regularly through the growing cycle.

Care Tips

  • Location: Camellias prefer to grow while sheltered from the summer’s heat and hot afternoon sun. Locate plants on the northern side of the house or under the shade of taller trees. The proper location will help shade plants in the hot summer months and shelter the shrub from harsh winter winds.
  • Watering During Blooming Season: Increase water levels during the peak blooming season. Help keep moisture levels up by applying several inches of mulch near the base of the plant, but ensure the mulch doesn’t touch the trunk. Keep camellias adequately watered until moist but not soggy.
  • Bloom Drop: Don’t be overly concerned with a lot of bloom drop; camellias are notoriously known for producing more blooms than they will open. However, excessive bloom drop may indicate that the plant is receiving too much water, too little water, or that it was exposed to sudden freezing temps. Take note of the water levels the plant receives.
  • Mature Plants: Once your camellia shrub is well established for a few years, you may skip supplemental watering. Just ensure that the soil is well-draining.
Camellias come in a variety of colors, such as this rosy carmine color.

Camellias come in a variety of colors, such as this rosy carmine color.

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Camellias also come in white.

Camellias also come in white.

How to Prune Camellias

Pruning camellias helps tend the overall shape of the shrub and encourages fullness—plan to prune your shrub before buds form.

  1. Pinch off the tender ends of branches by hand, or use a pair of sterilized clippers to remove tips of the branches.
  2. Make deeper cuts to remove damaged or diseased stems or open up the shrub to receive more light. Cut back lower branches to encourage upward growth.
  3. “Debud” your shrub when blooms start to bloom too close to each other. Consider removing interior growing buds to allow the shrub to focus energy on the outer blooms.
Rake up fallen blooms to prevent fungus from growing under your shrub.

Rake up fallen blooms to prevent fungus from growing under your shrub.

Pests and Problems

  • Scale and Spider Mites: Periodically inspect the underside of leaves for signs of scale or spider mites. Apply insecticidal soap or alcohol to the leaves to eradicate the source of the critters.
  • Fungus: Keep the area under your camellia tidy to help prevent fungus. Rake and remove fallen blooms and leaves frequently.
  • Blight: Yellow or falling blooms may indicate blight. Sanitize the area thoroughly by removing all dropped petals and leaves, as well as any mulch. Refresh the area by applying a fresh 4 to 5 inches of mulch beneath the shrub.
Some camellias are bicolored, such as this white and pink bloom.

Some camellias are bicolored, such as this white and pink bloom.

Questions & Answers

Question: Why does my pink camellia only have white flowers now?

Answer: Camellias have a knack for changing colors, or even producing two different colored blooms on the same plant. If your camellia is now white, it sounds like it has reverted back to the original color of the plant (the color of the bloom from it's "parent" plant). It is highly likely that your plant will only produce white flowers from here on out. If nothing else, you now have a great conversation starter!

Question: After seeing camellias in South Carolina, I would like to plant them where I live in zone 6a in Michigan. Do you think they will survive and flourish?

Answer: Camellias certainly will grow in zone 6, just make sure to winterize them properly. Shield the plants from harsh winter winds, and insulate roots with a thick layer of mulch around the base of plants and roots. Consider nipping some of the blooms to encourage a longer blooming time of the plant. Camellias typically bloom in the spring or fall months in zone 6, whereas warmer climates may see blooming year-round.

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