Keep camelias off grass

We’ve had a great succession of flowering shrubs this year. The dwarf crepe myrtles had a seemingly never-ending blooming, then we had (and still have) an autumn repeat-flowering from some azaleas, and now the sasanqua camellias. Our japonicas are looking good, with many buds almost ready to open.

The sasanquas have been a bit disappointing, I suppose. Their flowering has been staggered, rather than making a really good show. I blame the dry spring, which probably slowed the bud development. The japonicas don’t seem to have been affected as much, so I’m looking forward to a good display later on.

You might have a camellia which is consistently disappointing, forming flower buds but dropping them before they open. The usual cause of this is stress due to root competition. Often, you will see a mature camellia planted in the middle of the front lawn of an older house. These shrubs have lawn right up to the trunk and generally don’t flower well.

Camellias (like azaleas) are shallow-rooted shrubs. Lawn grasses have very efficient root systems, fully capable of out-competing the shallow camellia roots. The grass is getting most of the nutrients and water in this case. To fix it, you need to remove all the turf at least out to the drip-line of the foliage. Install an edging so that the grass can’t creep in again, and then feed, water and mulch inside the circle.

If you’re really enjoying the effect of a second azalea flowering, look out for the ‘Encore’ varieties especially bred for repeat flowering. They will all have ‘autumn’ in their names. These varieties are the result of years of work by an American hobbyist, and it’s certainly paid off. You will get spring flowering, spot flowers over summer and then another flush in the autumn – a triple treat!

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