Camellias remain a popular garden-center choice and continue to be demanded by area gardeners. Not even the threat of sudden oak death disease has dampened the enthusiasm.
To grow camellias successfully, there are several cultural requirements that you need to follow. First, camellias found in their native environment grow best underneath or near trees that provide moderate shade both during the summer and winter months. They do best in Georgia and South Carolina in association with pine trees, or otherwise protected from winter sunlight. Camellias located in full winter sun are much more susceptible to cold damage to both the flower buds and the foliage.
Ideally, camellias thrive in a well-aerated, well-drained, loamy soil. Adding an ample amount of organic matter into the planting bed or backfill soil is an important planting practice in heavy soil areas. Camellias will not thrive in a tight, compacted soil that is poorly aerated; neither will they survive in an area of the yard where water stands. Under these conditions, they are very susceptible to a number of root rot diseases, which can be avoided by providing a good root environment. When planting camellias, take care to plant shallow because deep planting will result in poor growth or death of the plant.
Camellias prefer the soil to remain moist, but not soggy, all the time. When watering, wet the soil to a depth of 14 to 18 inches. This requires more watering than what a sprinkler system would give them. Mulching the surface of the soil around the camellias can help conserve moisture, eliminate weeds, and help moderate temperature extremes. Three to five inches of good organic mulch is necessary for maximum benefit.
Camellias are strong feeders. Use a 10-10-10, or an organic equivalent, in March and June. Use a low-nitrogen fertilizer in September. This application will encourage better bloom color. Apply inorganic fertilizer at the rate on one pound per 100 square feet for each application. Adjust organic fertilizers to the above rates.
Prune camellias after blooming and before their new growth cycle begins. Camellias typically bloom (depending on the variety) from December to March. Remove weak stems that cannot support blooms.
The selection of camellias in the Augusta area is good at the garden centers. Varieties for color range from white to red with every shade in between. There also are cultivars, with mixtures of color, and camellia blooms come in a variety of shapes. These range from saucer types to small blooms that resemble roses.
This fall, plant some camellias or give some as gifts during the upcoming holidays. They will surely brighten up your winter landscape.
SID MULLIS IS THE DIRECTOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA EXTENSION SERVICE OFFICE IN RICHMOND COUNTY. CALL 821-2349, OR SEND E-MAIL TO SMULLIS@UGA.EDU.