The camellia is one of the most popular winter and spring flowering shrubs, with its extraordinarily beautiful blooms offering a vivid splash of colour when little else is in flower, and its bold, evergreen foliage providing form and structure even once the flowers have faded.
These easy to grow shrubs are perfect for adding colour to borders and containers.
Also known as Japanese Camellia, this flowering shrub could grow to around six meters after a number of years, if allowed to do so, but if you don’t want it to reach this height you can easily keep it in check by pruning it after it flowers. C. japonica produces large flowers from late winter to spring, in red, pink and white, ranging from solid colours to stripes, and from single cups of petals to tight double blooms. Glossy, deep green leaves provide the perfect backdrop for the flowers’ brilliant symmetry. Varieties such as ‘Blood of China’ (red), ‘Scentsation’ (pink), ‘Nuccio’s Gem’ (white) and ‘Lady Vansittart’ (pink/white bicolour) are consistently strong performers.
C.japonica, ‘Blood of China’
This variety is generally less well known than the C. japonica. Flowering from autumn to early winter, with darker leaves and smaller blossoms than the C. japonica, Sasanqua camellias are hardier, more drought-tolerant and disease-resistant, and many varieties can tolerate full sun.* You’ll even find that they may flower more if in full sun.
* Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ carries masses of festive red, single flowers and blooms in time for Christmas
Type: Evergreen shrub.
Flowering / fruiting time: Autumn to late Spring, or November to March depending upon the variety.
Sun Requirements: Camellias benefit from a sheltered, partially shady position, although with careful watering they can be grown in sunny positions.
Soil: Loam, clay sandy, acidic. They like soil with a loose, open structure, so add plenty of compost before planting to allow the right balance between water retention and free drainage.
Hardiness: Hardy, in the shelter of neighbouring trees, shrubs or buildings.
Eventual size (height x width): 2-6m depending on variety, and can be accommodated in smaller gardens with pruning, or as a pot grown plant.
- When choosing where to plant your camellia, remember that they require acidic, or at the very least a neutral soil when planting in borders, and ericaceous compost when planting in pots. Make sure that they are positioned in partial shade, and in a sheltered position, protected from strong winds.
- To plant a new camellia, dig a hole roughly twice the size of the rootball. Add some ericaceous compost and a handful of ‘fish, Blood and Bone’ to the hole to half-fill it. Using a trowel, mix this into the soil at the base of the hole and water the hole well.
- Plant the camellia to the same depth as it was in the pot and backfill with a mix of ericaceous compost and your garden soil, gently firming it into the surrounding soil. Put a stake into the ground to support the new plant, as they are prone to breaking in the first few years if there is particularly strong wind. Gently tie the camellia to the stake and water in well.
Feeding and watering
- Feed camellias in spring and early summer with a good ericaceous fertiliser such as Gro-Sure Ericaceous Plant Food.
- Camellias like cool, dry winters and warm, wet summers. The best way to cope with a wet winter is to add grit and compost to the planting hole so that the roots do not sit in wet soil. When growing in containers, place in a saucer and keep topped up with water in the summer months.
- If camellias don’t get plenty of water in their growing season, from April to October, they will have poor flowers the following year, so make sure that you water well during this period, ideally with rainwater, which is slightly acidic.
Unusual for the plant world, the camellia flower head falls as one, and can create a beautiful colourful carpet beneath the shrub. If there are any flowers caught by a frost, these can be dead-headed if you want to.
Next year’s flower buds will form on the initial spring growth, and although there may be a second burst of growth in midsummer, this will not produce any buds, and can be gently trimmed in early autumn to retain the shape of the plant without affecting the flowering.
Complementary Planting Ideas
Rhododendrons and azaleas make ideal companion plants for camellias as the spectacular colours of the three species provide non-stop visual appeal. They are also all ericaceous, so will thrive in the same type of soil.
Taller acers will complement the form and colour of camellias, whilst low growing woodland, spring bulbs, such as cyclamen and snowdrops, provide a delicate backdrop of groundcover.
Camellia bushes can live up to 100 to 200 years, although the oldest living camellia, planted in 1347, is over 650 years old and can be found in China’s Panlong Monastery.
A relation of the camellia garden plant, is camellia sinensis. Which is, of course, our nations favourite- tea!