Winter can be rather bleak here in central Virginia. Many gardens are bare with little color. Some, however, feature lush evergreen shrubs covered with magnificent pink or red blossoms . Camellias in all their glory.
Camellias are native to Asia where they are revered for their beauty. In Japan and China, they have been grown in gardens for hundreds of years. The most famous camellia? Tea. Yes, tea is a member of the camellia family.
There are several species of ornamental camellias. The most common are Camellia sasanqua and Camellia japonica. The sasanqua is a fall blooming variety, while the japonica blooms from September through April. Generally, sasanqua blooms are single, smaller, and looser than those of the japonica. Camellia japonica blooms can range from singles to semi-doubles to peonies to full doubles, and have a waxy appearance. Planting both sasanqua and japonica varieties provides much welcome garden color over a longer period of time than planting only one variety.
Growing camellias is fairly easy; just follow these general guidelines. First and most important: Be sure to choose the right variety for you garden conditions and to select the best location in your garden. Camellias need protection from winter sun and wind, so a northern exposure is generally good. Avoid full sun, especially morning sun.
Plant the camellia no deeper than it was in the container when you purchased it. The top of the root ball should be at ground level. Be sure to feather out the roots to encourage healthy growth.
Add some compost or organic matter to the soil during planting.Camellias prefer slightly acidic, well-drained soil. Add 3 to 4 inches of mulch around the camellia after planting. Pine needles are excellent. During the first year or two after planting, be sure to water the camellia during dry periods.
Maintenance of the plants after they become established is minimal. Pruning is only necessary to remove damaged stems.In fact, excessive pruning will adversely affect the number of blooms.
There are many good varieties of camellias available, and your local garden center can recommend ones for your particular garden. Some local favorites include: Berenice Boddy, Mathotiana, Tricolor Pink, Jacks, Springs Promise, Leucantha, Greensboro Red, Pink Perfection, Rev John G. Drayton, Herme, Gov Mouton, and Kumasaka.
For more information about growing camellias and the new cold-resistant varieties, be sure to check out the National Arboretum's camellia information page, or, better yet, visit their collection during bloom season: http://www.usna.usda.gov/Gardens/faqs/Camellia.html.
Camellias just may be the dazzlers you need for your own garden. What’s not to love about a plant that’s tough, has low maintenance requirements, and promises years of winter splendor.