Southern-favorite camellias are gorgeous bloomers. They’re longtime residents of gardens and yards across the Southern states, and they add beautiful, long-lasting color thanks to their lengthy flowering seasons. Beyond their lush blooms, these shrubs grow tall and broad, offering shade with their glossy, deep green leaves. Most Southerners know about winter- and spring-blooming camellias (Camellia japonica), but there are fall-blooming hybrids, too (Camellia sasanqua), all of which have their own planting and tending requirements. While these shrubs are grown widely in the South, camellias do require some care, so keep an eye out and make sure you’re not making the following mistakes when tending camellias in your yard. (Also, if you’d like to plant some in your garden this year, take a look at the offerings of the Southern Living Plant Collection, where you can find both Camellia japonica and Camellia sasanqua plants that bloom in shades from pinks and corals to whites, reds, and bi-colors.)
Underwatering Young Plants
According to The Grumpy Gardener, «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.» Once camellias are established, they require much less supplemental watering and can get by on less additional hydration.
Overwatering Established Plants
Once camellias are growing comfortably—The Grumpy Gardener gives the criteria: «over 3 years old, vigorous, and shading their own roots»—they can thrive on their own with very little watering. Grumpy advises, «If you do water them, make sure the soil is well drained.»
Planting in Winter or Summer
In the South, it’s best to plant camellias in spring or fall. Particularly in the Upper South and places where winters are colder, planting camellias in spring allows the shrubs» root systems to develop before the cold weather sets in.
Giving Camellias Full Sun
While well-established camellias can take some direct sunlight, younger shrubs require partial shade to thrive. It’s a good idea to plant them beneath a canopy of taller trees or near a structure that will provide shade from beaming afternoon sunlight. If they receive too much sun, their leaves will scorch and burn.
Overfertilizing Established Plants
The Grumpy Gardener advises to fertilize camellias lightly, saying, «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.» However, gardeners should be careful not to overdo it. Over-fertilizing can damage camellias and cause scorched leaves, leaf drop, and leaf spots.
Pruning at the Wrong Time
Camellias don’t need a lot of pruning, but they do need some. The best time for pruning is after their flowers drop and before any new buds appear. Remove dead and crossing branches, and thin dense foliage to allow for airflow and sunlight, as well as room for new growth.
Planting in the Wrong Soil
Well-drained acid soil is best for camellias. If the soil has too much alkaline or limestone, the leaves will turn yellow. Your local extension office can test your soil to determine if it is alkaline and guide you in adding sulfur to adjust the pH.
Ignoring Pests or Diseases
Pests and diseases are common problems for camellias. They can be corrected if you act on them right away. If you notice brown or white specks on the undersides of leaves and sooty mold, your plant likely has tea scale, which can be treated with horticultural oil. Aphids can leave a black moldy substance and cause leaves to curl and shrivel.
Petal blight is a common fungus that causes camellia flowers to quickly turn brown and drop. Remove blooms that have fallen and any remaining on the plant, and discard them along with existing mulch. Add four to five inches of fresh mulch. Pale, thick leaves indicate camellia leaf gall. They gradually turn white and brown before dropping. To control this fungus, remove any affected leaves before they turn white.
What planting tips have you learned from the camellias in your yard?