CAMELLIAS

If you’ve been thinking about adding camellias to your landscape, now is a great time to get ready. While camellias can be set out anytime of the year if properly cared for, late fall to early spring is the ideal time to plant them.

For best results, camellias should be planted in partial or full shade. If planted in full sun, the leaves may get scalded and turn yellow instead of the normal dark green. Camellias grow best in well-drained, organic, sandy, slightly acid soil; a pH of 6.0 to 6.5 is ideal. Avoid planting near shallow-rooted trees such as elm, birch or maple.

Dig a hole at least twice as wide in diameter and no deeper than the soil ball on your camellia; the top of the soil ball should be slightly above ground level when planted. Carefully remove the plant from the container without breaking the soil ball apart. You will want to check the soil ball to determine if the camellia has overgrown its container. If you see roots growing in a tight mass around the ball, use a sharp knife to make 2 to 4 cuts from the top to the bottom of the soil ball. Place the plant in the hole and back fill the hole, using the soil you removed, until the hole is about two-thirds full. Fill the hole with water, make sure the plant is straight and at proper depth, then finish filling the hole.

Place two to four inches of pine straw, bark or other organic mulch around the plant to help maintain moisture and keep the soil cooler. Do not use peat moss as a mulch as it will dry out and become very hard to keep moist.

Camellias should be fertilized in the spring after flowering is complete. You can use an organic fertilizer such as cottonseed meal or a commercial fertilizer. A soil test will help determine your soils deficiencies and recommend corrective action. For information on soil testing, contact your county Extension office.

Bob Shearer, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


TRANSPLANTING CAMELLIAS

When there are no other blossoming plants to cheer up the winter landscape, we can rely on the colorful camellia. Camellias are commonly available from local nurseries during the winter months and it’s an ideal time to transplant because, even though the camellia may be in bloom, it is actually dormant.

When people have trouble growing camellias, their lack of success can usually be blamed on one of two problems: setting the plant too deep or over-watering. Here are some guidelines for transplanting success.

  • Choose a site with filtered sun, as camellias don’t thrive in our hot East Texas summer sun. Also be sure the area is well drained.
  • Dig a hole at least twice the size of the root ball, creating a raised section (or cone) in the center. Place a brick — never concrete! — on the cone and place the plant on it to discourage it from sinking.
  • After removing the camellia from the nursery container, loosen the roots around the plant as you set it out.
  • Set the plant in a position that will leave approximately one to two inches of the root ball above the ground.
  • To fill the hole, instructions often suggest mixing peat moss with sand; however many experts are now suggesting pine bark mulch instead of peat. Try a mixture of 75-80% pine bark mulch and 20-25% sharp sand. Do not use the soil dug from the hole as back-fill except around the edges of the hole to stabilize the plant.
  • Because camellias have shallow roots it is wise to mulch heavily with pine needles, especially during the summer. Camellias are acid-loving plants and the pine bark and mulch are helpful.
  • Water the camellia well but let the soil dry out a bit between waterings. Once the camellia is well established, water it only when the soil becomes dry. Too much water can drown the plant.
  • Use a small amount of slow-release fertilizer in the late spring and again in the fall.

Depending on the variety, camellias bloom from early fall to mid-spring. If you have transplanted your camellia properly and care for it adequately, it will brighten your winter landscape for many years to come.

Donald A. Gill, Ph.D., former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


DIEBACK–A NEMESIS OF CAMELLIAS

Have you ever observed new spring growth on a Camellia japonica suddenly wilt? Then in rather quick order, the leaves turn a dull green color, later brown, while often remaining attached to the stem. Then the stem does likewise. A canker (a dead area on a stem surrounded by living tissue) can often be seen on the stem, limb, or trunk, depending upon the location of the portal of entry. It is usually elliptical and slightly sunken in shape. Many reddish-orange spore masses around the canker or on infected twigs may also be seen. These are the symptoms of camellia dieback.

Dieback is caused by the fungus Glomerella cingulata. The natural penetration by the fungal spores into the host is through leaf scar injuries that occur when old leaves are normally shed during May and June. However, man-made wounds (lawn mowers, pruning cuts) and wounds caused by hail and falling branches can be the portal of entry for infection. The fungal spores are easily disseminated by insects walking across wounds or by splashing rain or water. The environment favoring fungal invasion is warm humid weather, a cloudy day with temperatures from 65-80 degrees F.

The fungus is sensitive to some fungicides. However, once the organism invades the plant tissue, these fungicides are ineffective on the canker, but still can provide protection against future infections. The goal of treatment, therefore, is control, not cure. This can be achieved by following good cultural practices:

  • Good pruning techniques-Disinfect pruning shears, remove all deadwood, apply fungicide to pruning cuts and wounds.
  • Avoiding, if possible, overhead irrigation.
  • Providing good ventilation-Keep area around plant base (4-6 inches) free of mulch.
  • Mulching-Pine straw is excellent.
  • Avoiding excessive fertilization-Once a year immediately after blooming is usually sufficient.
  • Carefully examining purchased plants for infection.
  • Spraying of plants with a fungicide solution in the spring during the normal leaf-fall period.

Follow the above, and you will be rewarded with one of the most beautiful flowers in the landscape.

Joe Whetsell, M.D., Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


PROPAGATION OF CAMELLIAS

During the camellia bloom time this winter, you may have seen some camellias that you really liked. Many of the older varieties that you see in yards in Smith County are not available in area nurseries, but all is not lost. You can approach the owner of the camellia that you admire and request permission to do an air layering so that you can have a plant just like it.

Depending on the winter, late March or early April is the ideal time for air layering. This year, I think early April will be the ideal time.

You will need to obtain some sphagnum (pronounced /sfagnum/) moss from a nursery and soak overnight a quantity large enough to make a large handful of wet moss.

Select a woody stem of the camellia that you wish to propagate. I usually select one that is 12″ to 16″ long. Using a sharp knife, cut a ring around the stem in two places approximately one inch apart, being sure to cut through the cambium layer. Then strip off all the bark and cambium down to the woody stem in that one-inch space.

Sprinkle some rooting powder on the open cut.

Next, squeeze as much excess moisture as you can from a large handful of sphagnum moss. I have found that this is a key to success. Use moist moss but not drippy moss. The first time I tried this method, I air layered 21 plants and was successful with 18. The 3 that didn’t take were still too wet when I opened them up five months later.

Place the moist moss around the stem at the point of injury and wrap plastic wrap around it, totally enveloping the handful of moss. Then wrap electrician’s tape around the top and bottom to seal the openings. Then wrap aluminum foil around the entire mass, giving the appearance of a baked potato, and seal it off also. The foil prevents the sun from damaging the roots as they develop.

Next comes the waiting time. By the end of August to mid-September, you should have a new plant. You can determine whether it has rooted by feeling the “baked potato” at that time. If it is firm, then you probably have roots.

At this time, you can “harvest” your new plant by severing it from the mother plant just below the “baked potato” and peeling off the foil and plastic wrap. Now loosen up the mass of roots and plant your new camellia in a pot containing a mixture of about 70% pine bark mulch and 30% builder’s sand.

Be sure to keep it moist, especially during its first year. I lost a lot of plants by not giving them sufficient water.

Don Gill, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


GROWING CAMELLIAS

I was not familiar with Camellias until moving to East Texas. I quickly gained an appreciation for them with their elegant glossy evergreen foliage and their stunning blooms. But I was more impressed that they begin to bloom in the fall and can continue to bloom into the winter when everything else goes into a dormant stage. There are thousands of named varieties of Camellias ranging in colors, forms and sizes.

Although it seems Camellias should be from the south, they originated from China and Japan. One species is economically important for its tea qualities throughout Asia. Today camellias serve as beautiful landscape plants throughout the south and grow well in containers.

When planting your Camellia, select a location where they will have some shelter from wind and the hot afternoon sun. Under the shade of tall trees would be ideal. Mulch the new plant thoroughly to keep roots cool and the soil moist. Once they are more established, they should be able to tolerate more sunlight and need less water.

Camellias grow best in a loose, well-drained, acidic soil. A pH between 5.5 and 6.5 is recommended. A quick at home pH test can determine if your soil is right for planting. Fertilize them with an Azalea or Camellia fertilizer in spring, after their blooms have dropped. You can fertilize in the summer months if they start to look sluggish. Always read the label of your fertilizer and only use the recommended amounts.

Camellias, like any other plant, are susceptible to several common pests. Tea Scale is one; this pest looks like tiny brown or white specks on the underside of the leaf. Infested leaves will turn yellow and drop. An application of horticulture oil or a systemic insecticide should eliminate the scale.

A couple of fungal diseases are also common. Camellia petal blight causes flowers to turn brown rapidly, then drop. Sanitation is the best control – pick up and destroy all fallen blossoms as well as picking off any infected ones on the plant. Camellia leaf gall causes leaves to become distorted, pale, thick and fleshy. They will gradually turn white, then brown and eventually drop off the plant. Again, the best control is to pick up and destroy affected leaves before they turn white.

Insufficient water is the major cause of bud drop. Sudden drops in temperature can also cause buds to drop before opening. When buds are forming ensure the plant has sufficient water and be careful not to over water.

Once your camellia is established, you will enjoy this hardy, elegant plant for years to come.

Nancy Roddy, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

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