When most of my garden is sleeping during the winter months, my camellia bushes wake up and burst into bloom! I look forward to their blossoms every year and the profusion of elegant pink, white and red flowers breathe a breath of springtime into the winter landscape.
Our coastal climate is perfect for growing camellias and mine seem to love our garden’s semi-shaded environment, which receives mostly morning sun and the shelter our garden wall provides — so just as they say in real estate — location, location, location, is essential.
I fertilize my camellias after they finish blooming, around Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and Labor Day, which makes it easy to remember. An organic fertilizer for acid-loving plants, such as Dr. Earth’s Camellia Mix, will work wonders and promotes beautiful flowers. In the summer, I supplement the fertilizing routine with some organic chelated iron, which keeps the leaves green and healthy. When camellias are in bloom, it is their dormant period and they should never be fed during this time. Feeding a camellia that has bloomed could potentially kill it.
Now is the perfect time to select the type of camellia you want to grow, since they are in bloom and you can see the flowers and their color on the plant without depending on the nursery tag. There are six basic forms of flowers to choose from: single petal, semi-double, anemone, peony, rose double and formal double. Camellias come in a variety of sizes and some of my older plants are over 12 feet tall. Early-blooming camellias can bloom as early as November and as late as early June.
Never let camellia plants dry out during the warm summer months, or during Santa Ana conditions, which can cause the plant to drop its buds and weaken the plant. A layer of organic mulch near the base of the plant will help retain moisture during our dryer periods. Established camellias may only need a deep watering twice a week, but newly planted bushes should be watered more frequently, especially when it is warm.
Camellias prefer slightly acidic soil that is rich in organic matter. You can purchase "acid-loving" planting soil at most nurseries and garden centers and amend your soil before planting. They also need to be planted in an area where they receive good drainage, since they hate “wet feet.” Keeping these tips in mind, you can also plant them in containers.
If you have an older camellia that is not blooming, try lacing out the branches to allow air circulation through the bush. Pruning should be done when the bush is in bloom (the dormant period) and before its new growth sets in. In the spring, begin fertilizing and your plant should respond.
During these colder winter days, we are not the only ones enjoying the camellia flowers — the bees and hummingbirds are flocking to the flowers to enjoy a winter feast and I am happy to host them!