Anita Morton - Growing Gardens

Rights and wrongs with camellias

On the whole, sasanqua and japonica camellias are very forgiving shrubs. Provided you give them a reasonable approximation of their ideal growing conditions, they will flower beautifully year after year. However, stress them just a little too much and you will get no flowers at all.

Our camellias are performing amazingly well this year. They started flowering very early and seem to be prepared to carry on for months. The mild, wet summer suited them to perfection, and despite poor soil and increasing shade they have responded with prolonged flowering.

Theres a clue there persistent soil moisture is very important, because camellias have shallow root systems. Be prepared to water them if winter and spring are very dry, and if you have tank water that is the best to use. All town water tends to be alkaline, and camellias are acid lovers.

The most common reason why camellias drop their flower buds unopened is that the shrub is suffering moisture stress due to root competition. Dont plant them in a narrow bed bordered by grass, or as a specimen in the middle of the lawn. The lawn grasses will soak up all the water and nutrients, and starve the shrub.

Once the camellia is stressed you will find it is quickly invaded by scale insects, usually helped and protected by ants. You can spray with white oil every month until early spring if scale are a problem, but a better solution is to improve the growing conditions.

If you have an old camellia surrounded by lawn, remove the turf entirely right out to the drip line. Install a barrier so that the lawn cant creep back inwards, then mulch generously with well-rotted organic matter and keep the camellia well watered until it recovers. Dont fertilise until the camellia is making healthy new growth.


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