No other flowering Southern plant ushers in cooler weather better than the lovely American camellia.
Camellias bloom when few other plants do — in late fall, winter and early spring — and add a dash of color to gardens throughout the cool season. Hundreds range in bloom color from white to deep red, and most are cold hardy and withstand winter’s low temps.
One of the most common species is the Sasanqua (Camellia sasanqua), which are prolific fall bloomers. They tend to be more open and have smaller leaves with a single or semi double bloom.
The Sasanqua Camellia is known for its blooming beauty and versatility. It can vary in size, shape and color of flower. Its height ranges from 4 to 15 feet, depending on the variety. The Sasanqua flowers can be fragrant.
Other popular cultivars are “Shishi-Gashira” (pink), “Yuletide” (crimson red) and “White Empress” (white).
Another common species is the Japanese camellia (japonica camellia). Blooming in late winter, the japonica is a broad-leaved, evergreen shrub and can grow to 25 feet. Its dark green leathery leaves and large flowers are a striking addition to any landscape. Its showy blooms vary in color from white to pink to red, while others have multicolor edging and colored specks on their flowers.
Some popular japonica cultivars are “Debunante” (rose pink), “Adolphe Audusson” (very large dark red), and “Pink Perfection” (pink). Japonicas bloom for two months before tapering off in the early spring.
A native of Asia, camellias generally should be planted in late fall, but they can be planted in the spring.
Plant them shallowly in well-drained soil rich in organic material for establishment. Fertilize and prune them in the spring.
Camellias thrive best when sheltered from full sun and drying winds. Mulch around the plantings and do not overwater them.
Both types of camellias are beautiful perennial evergreen shrubs that are easy to grow and require little maintenance.
Camellias’ growth rate is slow, but they can survive for more than 100 years. Their landscape uses range from impressive borders and screens, but their main ornamental feature is their showy flowers throughout the winter.
Disease and pest problems are minimal, but scout them occasionally for canker, root rot, flower blight and tea scale (insect).
Camellias are Southern standby plants that pass the test for their evergreen qualities, cold hardiness and flowering winter beauty. They have been a part of the Southern landscape for more than 200 years. Continue the tradition and grace the garden with a few of your own.
For more information about camellias, visit the American Camellia Society website: www.americancamellias.org.
Wanda Cannon serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. Contact her at 770-535-8293 or email@example.com. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.