Camellia Planting Guide

While you may have heard differently, Camellias are actually not fussy and difficult to grow. In fact, if given a well chosen environment, they can be exceptionally care-free plants. Use the information below to ensure you'll grow beautiful and healthy Camellias

Start with a Smart Growing Location

A temperate climate is optimum, such as those in USDA hardiness zones 6-9. Similar to azaleas and rhododendrons, camellias prefer consistently moist, organically rich, slightly acidic soil with adequate drainage.

While you may see camellias planted in locations from dense shade to full sun, japonicas generally grow better in partial shade protected from the hot afternoon sun and early morning direct sunlight. The ideal location for japonicas is an area of dappled shade below a canopy of tall pines. Sasanquas will also thrive in this environment but do well in full sun. All camellias should be planted some distance from trees with aggressive surface roots such as oaks and magnolias. Consideration should also be given to exposure to northern winds (northern locations) and building proximity.
These are general guidelines for location and help young camellias establish better growth, appearance, and health.

Planting Camellias

The ideal time to plant camellias in the Camellia Belt is November through January as the roots are dormant during this time. In northern areas, spring planting is preferred over fall so that the plant is well established prior to a hard freeze.
Spring time planting is also acceptable in the South as long as strict attention is given to water requirements during hot and dry summers.

The three most important things to remember when planting camellias are:

  • Plant camellias slightly high, just above grade
  • Do not cover the root ball with dirt. Use quality mulch or pine straw only
  • Do not over or under water

Camellias are shallow rooted plants. The root ball must be allowed to breathe. Mulch or pine straw should be the only material placed on top of the root ball for this reason. Also, keep the mulch away from the stem.
Newly planted camellias require a moist and well drained soil. They cannot survive “wet feet." In areas with heavy clay soil it is essential to augment with organic material to ensure the soil stays well drained.

For more details on planting camellias, the CAMELLIA GARDEN FIELD GUIDE by Forrest S. Latta and Brenda C. Litchfield, available from The American Camellia Society, is an excellent source of information.

Caring for Your Camellias

Watering regularly is important as Camellias cannot withstand extended dry spells. This is particularly important when flower buds are forming.

Camellias do not require high nitrogen fertilizers. Fertilizers should be balanced, slow release, and formulated for acid loving plants. There are many commercial camellia azalea blends which work well. Cotton seed meal is also a good low nitrogen organic fertilizer and has been used for years because of its low cost and safety. Newly planted and transplanted camellias should only be lightly fertilized the first year.This ensures the roots are well established before too much leaf growth occurs that cannot be properly supported by the root system. As a rule of thumb it is much better to under fertilize than to over fertilize a camellia.

Keep an eye out for signs of petal blight or root rot. Making sure your soil drains well is a great way to prevent root rot. In the event your plant does suffer from root rot you may be able to help it recover by utilizing a copper based fungicide. Recovery may take a while depending on the level of damage. Petal blight is detectable by seeing "rust spots" on the flowers. If you see signs of petal blight remove the flowers right away to prevent it spreading, and remove any blooms that fall off the plant. Another helpful step may be to remove and replace any mulch around the infected plant.

Your camellias shouldn't need much or any pruning, but most varieties will respond well to the process. If you choose to prune in order to make the shrub more bushy, cut the stems to just above last year's growth.

Propagating Camellias can be done via layering, grafting, semi-ripe cuttings or hardwood cuttings.