Camellia Fertilizer Info: When And How To Fertilize Camellias

By: Jackie Carroll

Giving your camellia the right amount of fertilizer at the proper time makes the difference between a shrub that thrives and one that merely survives. Follow the camellia fertilizer tips and information in this article to grow the best camellias on the block.

When to Fertilize Camellias

The best time to fertilize camellias is in the spring after the flowers fade. Before fertilizing camellia plants, pick off all the faded flowers from the shrub and clean up fallen flowers from the ground around the shrub. This keeps the bush looking neat and prevents the formation of seeds. Seed formation drains energy from the plant and limits growth. Removing the flowers also helps control blight, which is a serious problem for camellias.

You can fertilize camellias again in midsummer. Fertilizing results in a flush of new growth that is sensitive to cold temperatures, so fertilize at least two months before the first fall frost to give the new growth time to harden. Otherwise, tender new twigs and branch tips may suffer frost damage.

How to Fertilize Camellias

Pull back the mulch before fertilizing camellia plants to help prevent runoff. Camellias don’t need much fertilizer, and too much nitrogen can burn the leaves and cause them to drop off. Spread 1/2 to 1 pound (227 g.) of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 slow release fertilizer over the root zone. Scratch the fertilizer into the top inch or so of soil with a garden rake and then replace the mulch. Water deeply to help the fertilizer work its way into the soil.

You can also use special fertilizers formulated specifically for azalea and camellia feeding, but only on well established landscape plants and never on container plants. Camellias like a soil pH between 4.5 and 6.5, and azalea and camellia fertilizer acidifies the soil as it feeds the plant. Different brands of these special fertilizers vary in the percentage of nutrients, so read the label and follow the instructions for the brand you choose.

Pale, yellow leaves that drop from the plant are symptoms of insufficient fertilizer, as well as soil with a pH too high. Check the pH of the soil before assuming that your camellias need more fertilizer.

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Pruning Camellias

In general gardening terms, pruning is probably the most misunderstood gardening chore, and certainly, the chore that is most likely neglected.

In general gardening terms, pruning is probably the most misunderstood gardening chore, and certainly, the chore that is most likely neglected. When we specifically look at pruning with regards to camellias, this misunderstanding and negligence can be magnified.

Pruning has been described as a “combination of art and science.” Pruning a specific plant to look a specific way, involves art in creating a unique definition for a specific plant, and it involves science in understanding the physical growing habits of the plant to be pruned.

The most important reason for pruning camellias is to improve the overall health of the plant. Many times, camellias that have not been pruned in a few years will develop dead or degenerative twigs. Removing the dead and dying limbs will minimize the possibility of diseases such as "dieback" and will also allow the plant to re-concentrate its energies.

In many instances, camellias that have been neglected for a number of years will become infested with insects such as scale. Severely pruning such infested camellias will not only re-invigorate the plant, but will also reduce insect problems and minimize corrective treatments necessary to eliminate such problems.

Another reason for pruning camellias is to re-define the plant’s definition within the landscape. Many times, a plant may outgrow its intended size in the landscape, and must be pruned to re-define its purpose. Pruning should always be associated with re-invigorating a plant by allowing it to focus its energies on producing more vigorous branches, foliage, and flowers.

Specific plant objectives require specific pruning techniques. If a camellia is being trained as an espalier, it would need to be pruned differently than if it were being grown as a tree form. Screenings and hedges of camellias would need to be pruned for their specific purpose within the landscape.

It is also important to understand the specific growing characteristic of a certain camellia when pruning that particular plant. For example, certain camellia varieties such as ‘Seafoam’ are extremely vigorous growers, and should not be pruned to maintain the plant as small shrub.

When pruning established camellias where no labeling is present on a variety to identify it, you need to look at the general growth patterns of the plant to be pruned. These observations should give you a good idea of how the plant tends to grow, and also how you should prune the plant.

When pruning large camellias, pruning can be a general shaping or shearing of the plants or it can be a severe pruning that significantly reduces the size of the plant. In most instances, camellias out-live the gardeners that planted them, and even though they are considered to be slow growing plants, they can become too large for specific areas of the garden.

Many times, gardeners inherit a wealth of camellias in their gardens when they purchase a previously owned residence. Although these camellias may have been lovingly cared for by the previous owner, it may be necessary to severely prune these plants to restore vigor or to create a different definition in the landscape for the new owner of the property.

Severe pruning should be done just after the plant has finished blooming. In some instances where the required pruning would be drastic, the pruning may be done towards the end of February even if the plant has not finished blooming. Severe pruning of camellias is generally thought to involve the removal of one third to one half of the existing plant. However, in some instances, this severe pruning could be even more drastic. In most cases, the plant should have no problem recovering from such a major pruning, and the pruned plant should quickly begin to grow with vigor.

If severe, pruning is necessary, it must be realized that the plant will shift its focus in the short-run from setting flower buds to growing vigorously, and it is very likely that the camellia will have few if any bloom buds during the season following the major pruning. During the second season following the severe pruning, the camellia should resume normal bud setting, and the plant should have healthier blooms because of the increased vigor in the plant.

It is important to always use sharp tools when pruning camellias. Knives, hand cutters, saws, and shears should be sharpened if necessary before pruning any camellias. A sharp cut will heal quicker than a jagged cut, which will also minimize the likelihood of disease investing a cut during pruning. It is generally recommended to not use power equipment such as gas hedgers to prune camellias.

Prune limbs flush to the feeder branches without leaving nubs. These leftover branches could eventually provide host for disease to enter your camellias. Many gardeners apply a pruning sealant or paint to all cut surfaces after pruning, but that practice is generally not necessary.

Pruning large camellias may be minor or major. Its general purpose is to maintain or restore vigor to the plant. Large camellias that have been severely pruned have the advantage of a large root system that has excessive capacity, and its roots are capable of supplying all of its energies to a smaller number of branches and foliage. This enables the plant to increase its vigor, and become healthier. Pruning large camellias that are well established will enable the plant to have continued vigor, and lead to many more years of supplying beauty to the landscape.

Growth Rate

Harvesting the new foliage in hedges of tea camellia (Camellia sinensis) in Charleston, SC at the Charleston Tea Plantation.
Joey Williamson, ©2012 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Japanese camellias grow very slowly and can grow to be quite old. Some hundred-year-old plants may reach 25 feet high or more and as wide, but most gardeners can consider camellias to be 10-foot-tall shrubs. Many are even lower growing. Camellia sasanqua cultivars are faster growing than C. japonica.

Propagating Camellia Plants and Growing them from Seed

The fastest and most reliable method of propagating new Camellia plants is by air layering. This method will allow you to create much larger clones.
Air layering of Camellias can be done at any time of the year but the best results are accomplished if the process is done in the spring when the plant is actively growing.

Camellias can also be propagated with softwood cuttings taken from new growth in early summer, but it is a slow process. Each cutting should have at least 5 nodes.
Remove the lowest leaves and trim the remaining leaves by one half
before inserting the cutting into a sand/peat moss mix.

Camellia seeds harvested from hybrid plants may be sterile, and those that are viable may produce plants that are not true to their parent.
Soak Camellia seeds in warm water for 24 hours before sowing them indoors during the spring or fall. Maintain a temperature in the growing medium of 70°-75° until germination, which takes 1-2 months.

Growing the tea plant in containers allows gardeners in Northern growing zones to enjoy the Camellia sinensis. Choose a container that holds three to five gallons of potting mix. Make sure the container has a good drainage hole, and don't set the container on a dish that traps water. Fertilize the plants with a diluted liquid fertilizer to prevent burning the roots.

Camellia plants don't come true from seed, but you can plant them and see what comes of your chance seedling. Take seeds from ripe capsules after blooming. Soak seed overnight to enhance germination. Plant in moist sandy loam. Germination can take from one to three months.

How to Harvest and Save Camellia Seeds

While camellia seeds are generally ready to collect at the beginning of fall, the timeline can vary depending on where you live and the plant variety you are growing. You will know the seeds are ready to be harvested when the pod ripens to the point that it begins to develop a small crack.

Pick the seeds by hand or use clean, sterilized gardening shears to trim the pods from the plant. Place the seeds you have collected in a brown paper bag, fold it securely, and label it with the plant variety and the date. Store the seeds in a cool, dark place until it’s time to plant them.

You can either use scarification to crack the seed coat or simply soak the seeds for 12 hours just before planting. One or the other method is recommended to increase the germination speed as well as the success rate.

Camellias are a unique, somewhat old-fashioned choice for the garden. Because of the variety of choices available, there’s almost no end to the options you have for matching or contrasting with the shade of other blossoms in your flower garden and the height and shape of your other plants.

These plants are a bit fussier than some of the other flowers you can choose to grow, but the fussiness comes more in the form of extra steps than extraordinarily difficult cultivation, so gardeners of any skill level can raise camellias once they’re armed with the knowledge that’s needed to care for them properly. After what you’ve learned reading this article, if you’re ready to add camellias to your garden, your hard work will be rewarded with a proliferation of beautiful blooms.

Watch the video: Winter Bloomers!Camellias how to grow themGarden Style nw

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