There is a Camellia for every position in every garden for every purpose. They are not difficult to grow. They are hardy and relatively trouble free. With a little care, they will give many years of pleasure with their attractive evergreen foliage and beautiful floral displays. Camellias are known to grow 100 and 200 years – the oldest recorded planting that is still living today is in the Panlong Monastry in China – planted in 1347.
Contrary to popular belief, Camellias thrive in a wide range of conditions – from the cooler climes around the hills of Sydney and Melbourne to the hot and sometimes humid conditions that we experience in South East Queensland and further north. What must be remembered is that a particular Camellia variety that does well in cooler areas may not perform as well in a warmer region – and of course the opposite applies. The best results will come from selecting varieties that are suitable for the area and position.
Some species and varieties prefer shade or filtered light, whilst others not only survive in full sun, they flourish, and in fact need sun to perform and flower at their best.
All the species and varieties that we grow at Camellia Glen are known to perform well in our area. We supply Camellias to areas from Northern New South Wales and the Northern Rivers District, Stanthorpe, Townsville, Atherton, Toowoomba, Gympie, Gold & Sunshine Coasts, and metropolitan Brisbane. There are some that we recommend for the ‘cooler areas of Toowoomba, Tamborine and Maleny or for Camellia enthusiasts who are prepared to try the more challenging varieties.
The trick is to plant the right species and variety in the right place in your garden for it to perform at its best. Here is some general information and basic culture notes that may help.
Camellias are evergreen shrubs mostly with dark green slightly waxy leaves which flower from Autumn through Winter and then into Spring – depending on species and variety. Within the Camellia ‘family’ there are many species. The most well known ones are:
Types of Camellia Species
Japonica – these prefer some shade to protect the winter borne flowers and to prevent leaves from scorching. Flowers range from around 2 to 5 inches (5 – 15 cm) and come in pure white, cream, palest pink to dark pink, orange reds to purple reds, striped, blotched, edged. The flower form can vary from single, semi double, peony form, anemone form, formal double and rose form double. They flower mid season, starting for us around May through to July, although some early varieties, like Arejishi and Alba Plena, start flowering in April. Late flowering varieties do not suit warmer weather as the late flowers will burn in the heat, and not open satisfactorily. Japonicas suit garden plantings as mass plantings, as a single specimen, or in a mixed garden planting. Depending on variety they will grow from 1 to 4 metres. They respond to pruning exceptionally well. Branches of japonica are used extensively in the cut flower industry as a ‘filler’ for flower decorations.
Sasanqua – these start flowering for us from February, for the early varieties, to June and July. They grow happily and flower best in full sun, flower prolifically over a long period. They have a generally smaller leaf than Japonicas – 3 to 5 cms – and dense foliage. Flowers are smaller – ranging from 5 to 9cm – and have a similar colour and form range as japonicas. Sasanqua flowers tend to shatter and fall after a day or two leaving a magnificent carpet of petals. Used extensively as a hedging plant they can also be used as a background or foreground planting (there are varieties that suit both applications), standards and topiaries, espalier or as a single garden plant. Depending on variety, they will grow from 1 to 4/5 metres. They respond exceptionally well to pruning.
Reticulata – described by some as the ‘glamour girls’ of Camellias, reticulatas are named for the distinctive veining seen on the leaves and often produce very large and spectacularly coloured flamboyant flowers. They are hardier than most give them credit for and some varieties will perform very well for us. They tolerate a fair amount of sun, and display a rather open and gangly look as young plants. This is more than made up for by their spectacular flowering in winter. Many reticulatas are indeed hybrids – a cross between a reticulata and another species – normally sasanqua or japonica. It is important to choose varieties that suit your particular climatic conditions.
Other Species – there are over 180 other species of camellia – and include the tea Camellia – C. sinensis (all the world’s tea – black and green – comes from plantations of Camellia sinensis). Generally, species have smaller leaves and miniature flowers, often scented as in Lutchuensis and Transnokoensis, but sometimes with 4-5 inch leaves and 4 inch flowers and seed pods as big as oranges – like Camellia species Crapnelliana.
Hybrids – a plant produced by crossing two different species eg a sasanqua crossed with a reticulata, or a japonica crossed with the species Lutchuensis, is called a hybrid. Deliberate hybridising often produces a new plant and flower which has characteristics of both the parent plants. New hybrids are developed for flower colour, flower size, numbers of flowers produced, fragrance and cold tolerance.
Flower Sizes (in Australia)
Many publications and plant labels mention sizes in the description. A Camellia described as ‘small’ is not necessarily a ‘small’ growing plant – the ‘small’ refers to the flower size. Camellia flowers are categorised into sizes and are described as follows;
- Miniature – less than 70mm (2.75 inches)
- Small – 70 to 90mm
- Medium – 90 to 110mm
- Large – 110 to 130mm
- Very Large – over 130mm (five inches)
There are six accepted and more or less easily recognised flower forms. They are:
Single – A maximum of 8 petals in a single row, with an uninterrupted cluster of stamens.
Semi-double – Two or more rows of petals, with an uninterrupted cluster of stamens. Petals may overlap or be displayed in rows.
Irregular Semi-Double – A semi-double with an interrupted cluster of stamens.
Elegans form (formerly anemone form) – An informal double with one or more rows of large outer petals lying flat or undulating; the centre a convex mass of intermingled petaloids and stamens.
Informal double (formerly peony form) – A double with any number of petals and petaloids, stamens may or may not be visible.
Formal double – many rows of petals overlapping in a symmetrical form with the centre petals unfurling as the flower opens; no visible stamens.
Sometimes formal doubles have their petals in a spiral pattern.
– generally designated as;
- Early – March to June (Southern Hemisphere) Autumn
- Mid-season – June to August (Southern Hemisphere) Autumn – Winter
- Late – August to October (Southern Hemisphere) Winter – Spring
- Flowering times will vary according to distance from the equator. The further from the equator the later the flowering.
These represent the times when the plant is in peak flower – there will often be spot flowering over a longer period. For example, our Sasanqua ‘Bonanza’ spot flowers in December and is in full flower from February to May, Japonica Arejishi spot flowers from March.
Camellia Culture Notes
Camellias are happiest in well drained, slightly acidic soil. The enthusiast will aim for a soil pH level of less that 6.0. If you garden has flourishing Azaleas and Gardenias, then Camellias will flourish also, for their soil needs are very similar. Soil should be kept moist but not wet. To maintain moisture apply a good layer of mulch to 10cm (4 inches). Wood chip and pine bark work well as does cane mulch. Avoid mushroom compost and fresh chook manure. These are inclined to be too alkaline.
Well rotted horse and cow manure mixed in well helps also. Avoid using lime. If you are in doubt, take a soil sample to your Garden Centre for a test – even better, purchase a simple soil testing kit and do it yourself – it’s easy.
To ensure your camellia has a well drained area in which to grow, add a barrow load of gravel to the mix – this not only raises the root ball level from the surrounding ground, it will make the soil drain well, reducing the risk of root rot.
While some Camellia varieties may develop extensive root systems close to the surface, they will naturally send down roots deep into the soil if they can. Encourage this by watering deeply and by your choice of location, where water will not sit in the subsoil and drown the roots. Test this by partially filling the planting hole with water. It should drain away within a reasonable time.
Water newly planted plants well and keep them moist until their roots develop and move into the surrounding soil. A deep watering weekly should suffice. Sometimes, particularly in Spring and early Summer, new growth will wilt in the heat of the day. As the day cools the growth picks up again.
Camellias have proved themselves to be very resilient in periods of extended dry weather. Naturally, a consistent watering regime will produce better plants and a better flower display.
The Camellia you buy at your Garden Centre will have a quantity of fertiliser active in the pot. Fertilise a month or two after planting with a recommended Camellia/Azalea food. There are a number of commercial preparations available and all will work comparably well. DO NOT OVERFEED. We kill more Camellias by drowning from inappropriate watering, and by fertiliser burn resulting from over fertilizing than we do from neglect. Follow directions as per the instructions on the pack. When established, fertilise immediately after flowering, around early spring, and again in December/January. This coincides with the plants’ natural growth spurts.
If you use a 12-14 month slow release (or controlled release) fertiliser like Osmacote Azalea Special (which we use), use in spring as the new growth buds are thinking about forming so they will get the benefit of the nutrient in the plant food before they start to bud. If there are still flowers and flower buds, it’s probably too late in the season for the flowers to fully open anyway, so you are better off sacrificing a few blooms. It’s better to get the new growth at the time the plant is ready to put it on naturally. The one dose will last the season. For your in ground plants, remember to gently mix the fertiliser in with the mulch. This is a good time to top up the mulch also. Always water in well.
Camellias respond very well to pruning. Do this after flowering to shape a bush or to remove unwanted or damaged branches. Sasanquas used for hedging can be pruned quite hard to encourage new growth and bushiness.
Again don’t worry if you cut off a few flowers – if you are pruning in spring it is better to prune before your plant has started to put on new season growth. That way, the new growth will be where you want it. I have seen Camellias cut back so hard that not a leaf showed with bare branches to six feet – and put on new growth and become better plants for the experience.
Pests and Diseases
Camellias are quite resistant to pests and diseases. Keep an eye out for aphids on new growth and wax scale on some varieties that can be unsightly. Some varieties can attract red spider mites that suck chlorophyll from the leaves in warm dry weather. This causes the surface of the leaf to take on a bronzed appearance. Wiping a finger over the surface of the leaf will squash any mites present and leave a reddish mark on your finger. The affected plant can be treated for mites with the appropriate procedures.
Many publications on Camellias will state that red spider mites attack the underside of leaves – this may be correct in cooler areas but the mite that enjoys our warmer weather attacks the top on the leaves. These little mites are quite undetectable to the naked eye and can just be seen by using a 10x magnifying lens.
Camellia sinensis – the Tea Camellia
All of the world’s tea comes from plantations of Camellia sinensis – there has been many varieties grown to meet specific climatic conditions and to produce the best leaves for picking to be processed as ‘tea’.
Plant your own tea plantation – black tea or green tea – it all comes from the same leaf – the difference is in the processing. We grow two varieties of the sinensis species – both white and pink flowering – largely for ornamental purposes. The white flowered sinensis that we grow is a variety that has been grown for commercial tea production in Queensland, and which is suitable for making tea, as well as being a very attractive Camellia bush.
There are a number of web sites that have information on tea leaf processing recipes.