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Cannon: Creating bountiful blooms

Camellias need lots of planning and care

POSTED: January 27, 2012 1:00 a.m.
/Courtesy American Camellia Society

Camellia. japonica 'Bart Colbert Varieagted'

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If you look around outdoor landscapes right now, you will see the lovely camellia in full bloom.

The camellia is one of those rare plants that put on a colorful show of blooms during the colder months. But to keep that shrub blooming profusely during the fall to spring months, be aware of what is necessary to grow and maintain this lovely species.

Questions like "when is the best time to prune?" and "what type of sun and soil requirements do they need?" should be asked.

Also, knowing what type of variety of camellia will fit into the landscape and choosing a bloom color that works well should be considered.

Although there are more than 200 species of camellias, all native to southeast Asia, there are usually two camellia species cultivated in the South: sasanqua camellia and Japanese (Japonica) camellia.

The major difference in the two are blooming seasons. Sasanquas often bloom from fall through early winter. Japanese camellias bloom from mid-winter through spring.

The early blooming sasanqua camellia is a 2011 Georgia Gold Medal winner in the shrub category and was chosen because of its soft, versatile beauty. The blooms can vary in size, shape and color, usually ranging from white to rosy light red.

The shrub can grow to a height of 15 feet if not pruned every year and can be used as a hedge plant. The sasanqua makes a striking addition to any landscape. Some great varieties suitable for North Georgia are White Empress, Flame and Rose Dawn.

The Japanese camellia usually starts blooming in late January through early spring and is considered the most famous in the southeastern U.S. Its showy flowers can be 5 inches wide and colors can vary from a bright, deep red to pink. Many blooms will have multicolored stripes or specks.

This shrub can grow up to 20 feet high. Varieties of this shrub include Elegans, Guilio Nuccio and Mathotiana Alba.

Camellias generally should be planted in the late fall through early spring. Given a well-chosen site, camellias are an exceptionally carefree plant. They prefer light shade, but will do well in a sunny location provided they have adequate moisture and good drainage.

Plant them in a slightly acidic soil (pH range from 6.0 to 6.5), similar to conditions that azaleas and rhododendrons prefer. Planting under a canopy of tall pines or oaks or on a north facing side is an excellent choice.

Fertilize camellias in early spring with products such as Holly-tone or Milorganite or any synthetic fertilizer in granular form, which will give the plant slow-releasing nutrients throughout the warmer months.

New camellia buds form on old wood, so pruning times are important. The general rule of thumb is to prune right after the blooming stage is over. This means that if you have Sasanquas in your landscape, now is the time to start pruning them into the desired shape and size preferred.

The Japonicas have just begun blooming, so they need to be pruned in the spring. All pruning on both should be done by spring. Inside branches should be removed to reduce accumulations of pests, mainly scale.

These wonderful evergreen, winter blooming shrubs have been a part of the Southern landscape for more than 200 years. The camellia thrives in our North Georgia climate. Plant a few and watch them display a beautiful winter show for years to come.

If you want more information about camellias, go to the American Camellia Society website, or give us a call at the Extension Office. Happy gardening!

Wanda Cannon is a Master Gardener trained through the Hall County program and also serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension Office. Phone: 770-535-8293. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesville times.com/life.



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