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A word from UGA Extension
How to plant and care for your camellias
Ingram Sam
Sam Ingram

I recently visited a homeowner that had some issues with camellias in her landscape. The plants were over 75 years old and looked to be in good health besides the minor issues.

I know many of the homeowners in the county have a camellia or two and enjoy the blooms they set whether they are red, white, pink or variegated. Hopefully this article will help those who have a camellia stay in front of these issues so they can continue to enjoy this beautiful plant.

If you are adding new camellias or transplanting, make sure the location is right. Camellias grow best in year-round, semi-shaded areas. Those planted in full sun are less dormant during winter warm periods. Sudden temperature drops can cause severe flower bud and leaf injury. A planting site under tall pines or on the north side of a building provides more moderate growing conditions. Camellias do not tolerate poorly-drained soils. Therefore, do not plant under drain spouts or in depressed areas where water collects. A gradual decline in plant vigor is usually associated with root system decline due to the soil or planting site.

Planting during the dormant season reduces the amount of attention required to establish this plant. Soil moisture is usually adequate during the winter and the root system readily grows. When spring arrives, the plant has a well-established root system able to support new growth.

Camellias do not require heavy applications of fertilizer. One level tablespoon per foot of plant height applied in March, May and July is usually sufficient. Spread the fertilizer evenly on the soil beneath the plant and extend it several inches beyond the drip line.

Camellia fertilizers are good but a general analysis such as 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 also gives satisfactory results. Only two applications (in March and July) are necessary when using a slow-release fertilizer. Water in the fertilizer to increase its distribution into the soil. It is not necessary to remove the mulch before fertilizing if watered afterward.

Homeowners seldom prune their camellias. While little pruning is necessary for compact-growing camellias, it is recommended on young plants that are not compact and is done in late May or early June.

A semi-double variety is not as susceptible to cold injury in the bud stage as a double flowering variety. Remove terminal buds from vigorous shoots after they emerge in the spring. This forces the remaining buds into lateral branching, which helps the plant develop a nice limb structure.
If an overgrown camellia needs to be severely pruned, the best time to do this is late winter. For our area, this would be late February. Cut the plants back to 12 to 18 inches above ground, removing most limbs and all foliage. Plants cut back higher (2 to 2½ feet above ground) usually fail to fill out near the ground and are not as attractive as those pruned closer to the ground.

For more information or questions, please contact Effingham County Ag agent Sam Ingram at 754-8040 or