By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
Camellia (Camellia japonica) is a flowering shrub that produces big, splashy flowers – one of the first shrubs to produce blooms in late winter or spring. Although camellias can be somewhat picky about their growing conditions, container-grown camellias are definitely possible. In fact, growing camellias in containers is an ideal way to produce the perfect situation for this spectacular plant. Read on to learn how to grow a camellia in a pot.
Growing camellias in containers is easy. Camellias prefer well-drained, acidic soil, preferably with a pH between 5.0 and 6.5. A commercial mix for rhododendrons or azaleas is perfect. Alternatively, make your own mix by mixing coarse peat moss or small pine bark with coarse sand in equal parts. Avoid fine peat moss, which tends to quickly become too dry or too wet and may lead to loss of the camellia.
Be sure the pot has at least one good drainage hole, as camellias in soggy soil can easily rot and die.
The following tips will help with camellia container care:
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Pots and planters filled with abundantly flowering, glossy-leaved camellias (Camellia japonica) add structure and a hint of the exotic to porches, patios and garden areas. From fall through spring, camellias flower profusely in snowy whites, deep reds and a range of yellows. You can also find pink and lavender varieties. Camellias grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 9. With a little shade, good drainage and the right potting soil, these woody shrubs take well to container culture.
Place the potted camellia in part shade where it will get about two to four hours of sun per day. The camellia's root ball should sit 1 inch below the lip of the pot.
Water when the top 1 inch of the potting medium starts to feel dry. Pour in water until it runs out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Under-watered camellias tend to drop buds prematurely.
Apply 1 teaspoon of liquid fertilizer mixed with 1 gallon of water to the potting soil twice a month from spring through fall. Use a fertilizer specially formulated for acid-loving plants these formulas commonly list camellias on the label.
Move camellias indoors into a greenhouse, porch or other protected spot when frost or a freeze is forecast. While camellias are frost-hardy in the garden, they are more prone to damage when growing in containers.
Repot camellias in the fall into planters 2 inches larger than their current pots when they shows signs of getting overgrown. You will notice roots trying to grow out the drainage holes, roots growing on the surface of the potting soil, and root mass so dense that water sits on top of the potting soil when you water.
To re-pot, lay the container on its side and pull out the camellia, handling it by the root ball. Cut away any roots that are rotten or mushy or grow in a circle around the root ball. Re-pot the camellia the same depth in the new pot as it was in the previous pot, leaving 1 inch between the top of the potting soil and the lip of the pot. Ultimately, the camellia will need a 2-foot-diameter planter at least 2 feet deep.
Cut out dead branches in summer. You can also prune out overgrown branches in midsummer to keep camellias compact and even-looking. Clean your pruning tools with rubbing alcohol after trimming the roots and branches to prevent disease spread between plants.
Check the top and the underside of the leaves weekly for aphids and spider mites. When you spot an infestation, rinse off the insects with a strong stream of water.
Check the woody stems for scale insects. Scale appears as raised welts that scrape off easily. Spray scale with a ready-mixed all-season horticultural oil.
Fertilizers should be applied in an economic but methodical process to ensure a steady release of nutrients over the growing season. Applications can be applied a week or two before new growth buds begin to swell. It may be best to apply nutrition in small to moderate quantities of three or more periods from March to September. Higher nitrogen rates are best applied in spring, then changing to moderate nitrogen and phosphate, and to higher potassium in September.
When using nitrogen-containing fertilizers, "slow release" nitrogen forms are much more efficiently taken up by plants. Many growing camellias in containers use one of the organic sources of nitrogen, such as cotton seed meal, applied once a month all year long. Seed meals release nitrogen as they decompose slowly and continually continuously over the long stretch. Slow continuous release keeps plants well nutrified during the entire growing season.
Early application of nutrients is essential for flower bud development in that the petal count can be related to general growth vigor of plants. Super buds begin formation as day length increases during May. Plants should be in good growth form by this time. Plants will be showing flower buds by the first part of July.
Water is not only essential for normal growth but a continuous supply ensures constant mineral uptake and maximum expansion of cells making up the new growth. Irregular water supplies interrupt the growth process which can result in stunted leaves and stems. If flower buds are being formed during water stress, their quality will be affected.
Maximum water availability is even more important while flowers are opening. One needs to prepare a flexible watering program to include an irrigation system and a measuring device such as a simple rain gauge to ensure a constant water supply.
Major pruning should best be completed over winter or by early spring. While spring and summer growth develops, minor pruning can be accomplished by breaking out soft new growth.
The ultimate pruning plan will reflect one's interests in camellia culture. Thick vegetation is the rule for landscape plants. Inside branches should be removed to reduce the accumulation of pests, scale in particular. Growers primarily interested in producing show flowers generally thin out more branches than those grown for landscape use. Flower buds are thinned, leaving large plump ones for show exhibition.
Pest control is a never-ending chore. While leaves and stems are young and tender, scale insects in the "crawler" stage move from last season's old leaves up to new succulent growth ants move aphids to the newest growing points spider mites appear from nowhere!
Keep a constant lookout for these and other pests. When discovered, take immediate action. Your favorite garden center personnel or your county extension agent will be glad to help you select the appropriate control.
The camellia grower's work is cut out for his or her cultivation schedule. Good nutrition, water control, light pruning and pest control result in beautiful blooms for the camellia flowering season.
Buttons and Bows: A formal double C. japonica, deep pink outer petals shading the white at the centre. Medium grower, flowers mid-April to mid-September
Coral Delight: Semi-double C japonica with flowers 10cm, from early June to mid-September, slow upright growth habit.
Courtesan: a striking semi-double variety of C. japonica with splashes of red and pink markings on white petals from May to September.
Moschio: A glowing cherry red variety of C. japonica flowering from mid-May to early September, that can tolerate morning winter sunshine.
Nicky Crisp: An enchanting variety of C. japonica with prolific flowering in soft pink from late May to mid-September
Feed your camellias the minute flowering is finished as the energy spent making flowers needs to be replenished. Use a camellia food we recommend Kahoona by Neutrog.
Click here to read Graham’s story about growing camellias:
This beautiful, flowering shrub has a long blooming season and loves the Southern climate.
The South is the heart of camellia country. Indeed, common camellia (Camellia japonica) is Alabama's state flower. Although it seems these beautiful plants must have been born here, in truth they hail from eastern and southern Asia. More than 3,000 named kinds of camellias exist, in a remarkable range of colors, forms, and sizes they are not browsed by deer.
Spring or fall planting is fine for most areas. Spring is better in the Upper South, where the root system needs time to get established before onset of cold weather. Mulch thoroughly to keep roots cool and the soil moist. Regular watering is critical during the first year. Water thoroughly to moisten the entire root ball then let the top of the root ball go slightly dry before the next watering.
In general, camellias grow and bloom better in partial shade, with shelter from hot afternoon sun. This is especially true for young plants, which thrive under the shade of tall trees or when grown on the north side of a house. As they grow larger and their thick canopy of leaves shades and cools their roots, they gradually will accept more sun. Shade provided in winter reduces cold damage in the Upper South.
Established plants (over 3 years old, vigorous, and shading their own roots) get by with little supplemental water. If you do water them, make sure the soil is well drained. Shelter them from strong winds, particularly in the Upper South or near the coast. They do not tolerate salt spray.
Feed with an acid-forming azalea or camellia fertilizer in spring, after the flowers have dropped fertilize again in the midsummer if growth seems sluggish or foliage looks sparse and begins to lose its deep green color. Apply at the rate recommended on the label. Don't overdo it, as plants grown in fertile soil need little fertilizer―and never feed plants that are sick or distressed.
Scorched or yellowed areas in the center of leaves usually indicate a sunburn. Burnt leaf edges, excessive leaf drop, or corky leaf spots generally point to overfertilizing. Chlorosis (yellow leaves with green veins) results from planting in neutral or alkaline soil to correct, feed plant with chelated iron and amend soil with sphagnum peat moss and/or garden sulfur to adjust the pH.
Tea scale is a common pest. These pests look like tiny brown or white specks on leaf undersides sooty mold grows on the honeydew they secrete. Infested leaves turn yellow and drop. To treat tea scale, apply horticultural oil or a systemic insecticide such as acephate (Orthene) or dimethoate (Cygon), following label instructions.
Two fungal diseases are common. Camellia petal blight causes flowers to turn brown rapidly, then drop. Sanitation is the best control: pick up and destroy all fallen blossoms as well as infected ones still on the plant. Remove and discard any existing mulch, then replace it with a 4- to 5-in. layer of fresh mulch. Camellia leaf gall causes leaves to become distorted, pale, thick, and fleshy they gradually turn white, then brown, then drop from the plant. The best control is to pick up and destroy affected leaves before they turn white.
Bud drop is a frequent complaint. To some extent, this is natural for all camellias (many set more buds than they can open), but it also may be caused by overwatering, summer drought, or sudden freezes.
Prune after blooming has ended. Remove dead or weak wood thin out growth when it is so dense that flowers have no room to open properly. Shorten lower branches to encourage upright growth cut back top growth to make lanky shrubs bushier. When pruning, cut just above a scar that marks the end of the previous year's growth (often a slightly thickened, somewhat rough area where bark texture and color change slightly). Making your cuts just above this point usually forces three or four dominant buds into growth.
Camellias are outstanding container plants whether you grow them outdoors on a terrace or indoors in a cool greenhouse. As a general rule, plant gallon-size camellias in 12- to 14-in.-diameter containers, 5-gallon ones in 16- to 18-in. containers. Fill the container with a potting mix containing 50 percent or more organic material. Make sure the container has a generous drainage hole.
If you live in the Upper or Tropical South and have problems growing camellias, take heart: you can now enjoy hybrids that flourish in the extremes of weather found in both regions.
A number of species, most notably the C. oleifera, produce hybrids that withstand temperatures as low as -15°F with little or no damage provided they have some shelter from winter sun and wind. Selections include ‘Polar Ice' and ‘Snow Flurry', with white anemone-form blossoms ‘Winter's Charm', pink peony form ‘Winter's Dream', semidouble pink blooms ‘Winter's Fire,' with semidouble to peony-form, hot pink flowers in midwinter ‘Winter's Star', lavender-pink single blooms ‘Winter's Waterlily', white winter double. C. japonica also has an April series of hardy camellias, named for the time they typically bloom in the cooler, northern part of their range. These include ‘April Blush', ‘April Dawn', ‘April Remembered', ‘April Rose', ‘April Snow', and ‘April Tryst'.
These japonicas perform well in the Tropical South as far as Fort Myers and West Palm Beach in Florida: ‘Alba Plena', ‘Debutante', ‘Gigantea', ‘Lady Clare', ‘Mathotiana', ‘Professor Charles S. Sargent', and ‘Red Giant'. You can even try them in Miami, though you'll have to grow them in pots because of the alkaline soil there.
It is usually a problem with the presence of scale and spider beneath the leaves. Use soap spray or alcohol. If the leaves of the plant are yellowing then the pH of the soil can be very high, test the soil to ascertain. Camellia naturally leaves it the old leaves, the loss of the leaves in a small amount is normal. Large amounts of dead, yellow, or reddish leaves can be a sign of disease.
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