Camellias are one of the most popular winter- and spring-flowering shrubs, providing a vivid splash of color when little else is in bloom. Most spring-flowering Camellias prefer neutral to acid soil (between pH 7 and 5), so those on chalky or alkaline soil will struggle.
When to Plant
The best time to plant them is in spring when you can see the flowers or autumn. If you buy one in winter, keep it somewhere sheltered and plant it in spring.
Where to Plant
Most Camellias we grow are raised from four species Camellia japonica, Camellia sasanqua, Camellia saluenensis, and Camellia reticulata. These are understorey plants growing under trees near the brighter edges of woods and forests, so they want dappled light in your garden, preferably with overhead leafy shelter.
If you're growing your Camellia in a container, find it in a sheltered position. This will ensure that the early flowers do not get browned by frost, which can easily happen on a cold east-facing wall where the morning sun causes a quick thaw. Southern walls are generally too warm and dry.
They need a well-drained position, and they will die in the water-logged ground due to the lack of oxygen in the soil. They like warm, not hot summers, with plenty of humidity.
Growing Camellias in Pots
Choose a large rugged pot, terracotta, wood, or stone, and part fill with ericaceous compost, and then add your plant and backfill so that the level of the container is level with the soil. Water thoroughly, preferably with water taken from a water butt. If you use tap water, which tends to be alkaline, allow it to stand for a morning first.
Repot every other year into fresh potting compost. In the intervening years, remove the top 2 inches (5 cm) of compost and add fresh compost. You can repot back into the same pot if you trim off up to a third of the roots to make room for fresh potting compost or go up into a larger container. This regime will keep your Camellia happy.
Growing Camellias in the Ground
Camellias are fast-growing tap-rotted plants, and the new growth can snap off in windy positions, so staking is advisable for the first few years until the Camellia becomes bushy. However, they tolerate windy conditions once established and are often used as windbreaks in gardens where they thrive.
How to Plant
Dig a hole twice the size of the pot and prepare a mixture of leaf mold, garden compost, and animal manure. If this isn't possible, use a loam-based compost and add slow-release fertilizer.
Take the plant out of the pot and loosen the root ball with your fingers.
Place the plant in the hole, so the top is level with the ground. Use a bamboo cane balanced on either side of the hole if unsure.
This is best done lightly in spring after flowering in April and May, which is good practice with all evergreens. However, pruning is not necessary! Leave it alone unless it's got too large.
Growing from Seed
In warm gardens, Camellias can set large seeds of hazelnut size inside quince-like fruits. Remove the brown seeds and push them into a pot filled with compost and grit, ensuring they are just below the surface. They will produce a plant within two years for most.
The best time to take cuttings is between August and September. Choose new growth and cut off a section of growth. Pull side shoots away, so they have a heel – a ripped-off end.
Pull off the lower leaves, trim the bottom of the cutting to get rid of the wispy end, and dip the cuttings into hormone rooting powder. Push the cuttings into a mixture of peat and sand and keep them in a warm place out of the full sun – ideally, the temperature should be 65°F (15°C). Pot up-rooted cuttings in the following spring.
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