How to Plant and Grow Camellia

Evergreen camellia shrubs will brighten up gardens during the colder months with their rose-like flowers.

Camellia is a perennial shrub that comes in many shades of pink, red, and white. There are six types of blooms: single, semi-double, anemone, peony, rose form double, and formal double. Each form features a specific petal arrangement and number of petals. Camellia is hardy in zones 6-10.

Bloom time varies in camellia shrubs depending on the species. Some bloom in the spring, fall, or even winter in mild climates. Species with small flowers tend to be the fragrant ones because breeding efforts for large formal types have focused on size rather than scent.

Camellia Overview

Genus Name Camellia
Common Name Camellia
Plant Type Shrub
Light Part Sun, Shade, Sun
Height 8 to 20 feet
Width null to 20 feet
Flower Color Pink, Red, White
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Fall Bloom, Spring Bloom, Winter Bloom, Winter Interest
Special Features Cut Flowers, Good for Containers
Zones 10, 6, 7, 8, 9
Propagation Seed, Stem Cuttings
Problem Solvers Good For Privacy

Where to Plant Camellia

Site camellias in part shade or dappled shade to help them grow best. Plant them at least 5 feet apart, because they need their space to get ample water and nutrients and don't like to compete with other, larger trees or shrubs for what they need.

How and When to Plant Camellia

Plant camellias in fall or early spring. In warmer areas, fall is better because plants have time to grow deep root systems without summer heat affecting them. Plant in the spring for best results where temperatures are cooler.

To help drain water away from their trunks, plant camellias so that the top of their root balls are slightly above the soil's surface. During their first year, camellias benefit from supplemental watering during dry spells. After that, they tend to be drought-tolerant. Shelter plants from strong winds, especially in the upper South or near the coast.

Camellia Care Tips

Camellias are fairly easy to grow, requiring many of the same conditions as other broadleaf evergreens like rhododendrons and azaleas. In fact, they're often used as a companion plant to rhododendron and azalea.

Light

Plant young camellia plants under the protective shade of large trees. The bigger they grow, the more their flowering shrubs will protect the roots and the more sun they can accept. Check what the type of camellia you plant requires regarding sunlight - some varieties need more than others.

Soil and Water

The soil for camellias should be slightly acidic (6 to 6.5 pH), well-drained, and rich in organic matter. Supplement poor soil by raking compost or manure into the topsoil.

Keep camellias' soil moist to a depth of 14 to 18 inches to encourage the best bud growth. If the soil gets dry, buds will have fewer petals, and the flowers won't look as lush as they can. Water twice a week, up to 1 inch per week. Keep the soil moist by adding 3 inches of mulch, which also helps to suppress weeds.

Temperature and Humidity

Camellias prefer cooler temperatures but will be harmed by frost. Plant camellias in north-facing locations with a wind guard like a wall or a building to protect them from damage. In spring, 50 degrees is ideal for camellias, while winters should remain between 40 and 50 degrees with sunlight. They thrive in a more humid environment, one reason they're hardy in zones 6-10.

Fertilizer

There are fertilizers specifically for camellias and azaleas. Use one to manage the soil acidity. They like nitrogen-rich fertilizer that's slow-release. Fertilize in early and late spring and again in mid-summer.

Pruning

Prune camellias in late spring, after they flower, for a bushier shrub. Cut away dead branches or any that show signs of disease or blight. Don't prune too much - just what's necessary to keep the shrub healthy and manageable.

Potting and Repotting Camellia

While some camellias are too large and have too extensive a root system to be planted in pots, smaller cultivars can be potted. Plant camellias in large containers with appropriate soil that's at least 50% organic, and cut the taproot to encourage a broader and more fibrous root system. Add gravel or bark to the pot to encourage good drainage.

Camellias will need to be repotted every 2 to 3 years to keep growing.

Pests and Problems

Watch for petal blight in spring. This fungus turns petals brown, then kills the whole flower. The best solution is to remove affected flowers and debris from around the plant, then treat it with a foliar fungicide at least twice a month.

Camellia scale (also known as tea scale) is the name for small white to gray insects that affix themselves to the undersides of leaves close to the stem. Though generally not fatal, the insects can weaken the plant. Handpicking the pests can alleviate the problem, but smothering scale and their eggs with horticultural oil may be more effective.

How to Propagate Camellia

Propagate camellias by layering for speedier growth. They can be grown from seed, but it takes a long time for plants to develop.

To propagate, do this during the summer:

  1. Bend a long plant stem down to the ground and cut a nick at an angle.
  2. Bury the wounded area in the ground after looping the stem into the soil. Use a rock or stiff wire to keep it in place.
  3. The wounded part of the stem will create a network of roots over an entire growing season. Once this happens, point, clip it away from the original plant, and move it to a new location.

Types of Camellia

'Granada' Camellia

Camellia japonica 'Granada' with red blooms
Marilyn Ott

This variety of Camellia japonica produces semidouble to peony-shape deep red flowers in mid-spring. It grows 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide in zones 7-8.

'Alexander Hunter' Camellia

Camellia japonica 'Alexander Hunter' with red blooms
Rob Cardillo

Camellia japonica is an upright shrub with sweeping branches bearing single or semidouble, deep red blooms in early and mid-spring. It grows 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide in zones 7-8.

'Helen's Ballerina' Camellia

Camellia japonica 'Helen's Ballerina' with white blooms
Dan Piassick

Camellia japonica has a vigorous, open habit and produces large double, pale peachy-pink blooms late in the season. It grows 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide in zones 7-8.

'Julia Drayton' Camellia

Camellia japonica 'Julia Drayton' with pink blooms
Justin Hancock

This upright shrub of Camellia japonica bears double and semidouble crimson purple-tinged flowers in mid-and late spring. It grows 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide in zones 7-8.

'Miss Universe' Camellia

Camellia japonica 'Miss Universe' with white blooms
David Goldberg

Camellia japonica 'Miss Universe' is a prizewinner worthy of the name, producing large double white flowers on a shrub that grows 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide in zones 7-8.

'Lila Naff' Camellia

Camellia japonica 'Lila Naff'
Robert Cardillo

This variety of Camellia japonica bears soft, silvery pink blooms in mid-to-late spring on a shrub that is slow growing and upright. It grows 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide in zones 7-8.

'Kramer's Supreme' Camellia

Camellia japonica 'Kramer's Supreme' with pink blooms
Cynthia Haynes

Camellia japonica produces double, big, bountiful blooms of rose-red in late fall and again in late spring. It grows 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide in zones 7-8.

Zones: 7-8

'Elegans' Camellia

Camellia japonica 'Elegans' with pink blooms
Erica George Dines

Anemone-shaped rose-pink blooms make this variety of Camellia japonica stand out with its summer color. It grows 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide in zones 7-8.

'Coquettii' Camellia

bright red camellia 'coquettii' blossom
Justin Hancock

This variety of Camellia japonica is a slow-growing selection that bears deep red blooms, sometimes double, in mid-to-late spring. It grows 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide in zones 7-8.

Tea Plant

Camellia sinensis macrophylla 'Yellow Tea'
Denny Schrock

Camellia sinensis is commonly called tea plant. Small, white to pink single blooms are borne in fall in zones 6-9.

Camellia Companion Plants

Hosta

Also called plantain lily, hostas come in diverse foliage shapes, colors, textures, and sizes. In addition, hosta leaves come in a wide range of hues, from an almost navy blue to a pale, creamy white.

Rhododendron

 These evergreen plants with broad leaves boast large clusters of showy blooms in spring. In areas with dry winters, deciduous varieties of rhododendrons can fill in the gap.

Hydrangea

Hydrangeas can flourish in sunshine or dappled shade. Huge bouquets of hydrangea flowers are beautiful from summer to fall. Varieties of hydrangea differ in size, flower shape, color, and bloom time.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why aren't my camellias blooming?

    If your camellias aren't blooming, it could be for one of many reasons, including improper pruning, damage from cold weather causing buds not to develop, too much or too little nutrients, or not enough sun or water.

  • How quickly do camellias grow?

    Camellias are very slow-growing, at a rate of 12 inches per year.

  • Can you use camellia in cooking?

    The 'tea plant' camellia is used to make tea. Its young leaves are used to make green tea, black tea, white tea, oolong tea, and others.

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