Camellias add color to the landscape in winter when few plants are in bloom.
If you want to enjoy camellias earlier than normal, you might want to consider "gibbing" them. Gibbing camellias increases the length of time the camellia flowers, and it will also increase the bloom size.
Gibbing refers to applying gibberellic acid to the flowers. The substance, which is available at most garden centers, is a growth-regulating chemical that is produced by plants in small quantities.
Treat each flower bud individually. If you look at a flower bud on a camellia, you will notice a much smaller vegetative bud next to it. Simply twist out the vegetative bud leaving a small "cup" into which one drop of solution is placed. This drop is slowly absorbed by the plant and makes it's way to the adjacent flower bud.
The process should be done from the second week of September through Nov. 20. Gib only a few (four or five buds) every week, so the blooms will be staggered.
Times vary on how long it takes flower buds to open. Some are as early as 20 days. Examples of these include Aloha, Daikagura Red, Conrad Hilton, Debutante, Daikagura Special and September Morn. Most of the other varieties average about 40 to 50 days for the flower buds to open.
A couple of other tips on gibbing include waiting until the buds are dried off from either rain or morning dew. The other tip is to start gibbing on the shady side first, then working your way around to the sunny side as the wather cools.
We have an excellent brochure in the Extension Office on camellias, which covers gibbing and a variety of other things.
When caring for camellias, watch for sooty mold and tea scale. Sooty mold is a parasitic fungus that results from infestations of aphids, whiteflies, and some scale insects. Tea scale is the most severe insect problem associated with camellias. They are most often found on the underside of leaves. Symptoms of infestation include a yellowing of the upper leaf surface, followed by leaf drop.
Controls for scale and aphids include using Orthene, Cygon, and insecticidal soaps. Horticulture oils are good for scale, but can injure plants if the temperature exceeds 85 degrees, or drops to near freezing soon after application.
Hopefully, you will go out and gib your camellias, so you and your neighbors can enjoy your camellias for a much longer time.
Sid Mullis is director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County. Call him at 821-2349, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Richmond and Columbia counties have a Web page at www.griffin.peachnet.edugacolumbia