When landscapes feel barren during our winter months in north Florida, any bursts of color you see are likely coming from Camellias. For centuries, these evergreen shrubs have been the choice of royalty and common gardeners alike. Luckily, camellia care is easy – the harder part is choosing among the thousands of varieties.
The Sasanqua and Japonica species are most common in the Big Bend, with thousands of hybrids producing a wide array of flower forms and sizes. Both species are evergreen, able to provide privacy as hedges or grown alone to provide cool weather color. The Japonica species tends to be larger in size while the Sasanqua species tends to have smaller but more numerous flowers with more notable fragrance.
- Mature size: 6 – 10 feet high and wide
- Sun: Can tolerate part to full sun, preferring a sunny spot without harsh afternoon sun
- Soil: Well drained with neutral to slight acidity
- Bloom time: Late summer through the holidays. October – December
- Flowers: Smaller than Japonica, but more numerous and fragrant
- Mature size: 7-12 feet high, 5-10 feet wide, upright growth
- Sun: Blooms best with six hours sun per day. Avoid harsh afternoon sun to avoid sunburn
- Soil: Can range from acidic to neutral or slightly acidic
- Bloom time: Late winter, potentially staying through spring. December – March
- Flowers: Larger than Sasanquas leaves and flowers
A local camelia: Tallahassee Girl – light pink with yellow anthers
TIP: If you enjoy growing your own herbs for tea, consider including Camellia sinensis in your plantings.
Commonly called the Tea Camellia, this hardy evergreen is heat and drought tolerant, growing well in full sun. Young leaves and leaf buds are used for green tea, older leaves for black tea and the buds for white tea. Keeping it pruned to under 5 feet produces the most options for tea, also making it a candidate for growing in a large pot.
Planting Your Camellias
November through February are the preferred planting times in north Florida. Late spring or summer is a possibility if camellia care is a top priority. Camellia roots prefer the cooler months without hot sun for development, so keep this in mind when planning your purchases.
When selecting where to plant your camellias, avoid full shade. Partial to more sun is needed to develop a strong plant and healthy blooms. Camellia sasanqua will tolerate more sun while japonica prefers partial shade, but neither will tolerate the hot, harsher afternoon sun we have here in the Big Bend.
DO NOT plant too deep! The root ball of a camellia plant must be 1-2- inches above the soil line. This allows for some sinking and gives the roots a chance to breathe. For optimum camellia care, it’s best to maintain a 2–3-inch layer of mulch in the root zone to conserve moisture. Be sure to mulch close, but not over the root ball to allow air exchange.
After the first camellia is in the ground, you may be tempted to plant others closer because the young plants look smaller once planted. Keep in mind that their average size once mature is between 5-10 feet in width. Planting them too close together now means crowding and lack of air flow in a few years, leading to pests and disease.
Pruning Your Camellias
Camellia care includes proper pruning to remove damaged or dead branches and allow air flow through the plant. The good news is most camellias maintain a consistent shape, minimizing pruning. When a wayward branch heads in the opposite direction, remember pruning is best done in late winter or early spring, after the blooming season.
One type of pruning to avoid is shearing – taking off the top of the plants in a row to create a hedge of same height camellias. Shearing destroys the shape of camellias, causing them to try recreating their natural form. This results in dense outer layers that minimize air flow and light reaching the inner branches, causing loss of leaves and risk of disease.
Propagating Your Camellias
You may love your camellias so much, you decide you want to try propagation. Seeds do not give consistent results, so you will find most camellias are propagated from cuttings or layering. These methods ensure the new plants will have the characteristics of the parent plant.
Layering is a good introduction to propagation, potentially yielding a new plant in a matter of months. It requires selecting a stem with new growth, about 18-24 inches long, then removing part of the bark. For air layering, sphagnum moss is used to create a rooting environment when wrapped around the exposed bark. You can use a similar method, simply called layering, that encourages rooting of the exposed bark once it is bent to the ground and covered with soil.
Whether you chose cutting, grafting or a form of layering, there are a variety of resources available that will walk you through the process step-by-step. When searching, start with the general term of “propagating camellias” getting more specific with “air layering camellias” or other choices as you progress.
Where to Find Out More About Camellias
We are fortunate in Tallahassee to have a variety of nurseries with knowledgeable staff ready to help you with your selection and camellia care questions. You may find like-minded people in clubs – including the Tallahassee Camelia Society that meets monthly from October to May. There is also the Tallahassee Garden Club, a gathering of gardening enthusiasts since 1926, which hosts monthly plant exchanges for their 500-plus members. There is no shortage of resources both local and online for you to continue learning about camelias, including ways to expand your collection.
At Miller’s Tree Service, we care about your landscape – trees and camellias, azaleas and crape myrtles. When you have one of our arborists out for a free tree removal consultation, ask about replacement ideas and help sprucing up under your live oak. Our crews are proud about the care we show in cleaning up after a job, leaving your yard as clean, or cleaner, than when we started. Tallahassee is our home too, so keeping it beautiful – and safe – is our goal.