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Camellia Varieties: Growing a Southern Favorite

camellia varieties

Like food, landscape, and culture, every region of the United States has associated vegetation. The Southwest is known for saguaro cacti. People celebrate the sugar maples of New England for their delicious syrup. In the Southeast, magnolias scent the famously sultry air. Camellia varieties are another common staple in southern gardens.   

In fact, the South is camellia country. The American Camellia Society is located just south of Atlanta, and Alabama selected the camellia for its state flower. Thriving in the temperate growing zones found in the region, this beautiful evergreen shrub adorns both commercial and residential properties.   

Prized for eye-catching flowers and a long growing season, camellia varieties add color to cool-season landscapes. With more than 3,000 named cultivars in existence, there’s a shade, form and size of camellia for every garden.  

Camellias: The Rose of Winter  

Atlanta-area gardeners are fortunate to be able to choose from a wide variety of flowering shrubs. Hydrangeas, azaleas, rhododendron, peonies, roses, and even some forms of hibiscus do well with our mild climate and acidic red clay soil.   

The cold-hardy camellia distinguishes itself by blooming when most things aren’t.   

Camellia japonica varieties are sometimes referred to as the Rose of Winter. Dramatic peony-form flowers with red, white, or pink petals appear amidst glossy evergreen foliage from mid to late season, December through April.   

Camellia sasanqua varieties bloom early to mid-season. Sasanqua’s flowers aren’t quite as large and showy as their japonica counterparts. However, they tend to bloom profusely, delivering consistent color in cooler weather.  

By mixing varieties of japonica and sasanqua, it’s possible to add three seasons of blooms to your garden.

Optimal Growing Conditions for Camellias  

Almost all camellia varieties thrive in light shade and slightly acidic soil. You can test the soil before planting to ensure the pH falls between 5.5 and 6.5.   

If the soil is too acidic, the camellia’s leaves will yellow and fall off. If it’s too alkaline, the plant will fail to thrive. Amend overly acidic soil by applying lime. To lower the pH, apply an acidic fertilizer like Holly-tone.  

It’s also important to choose a spot with well-drained soil for your camellia. They hate wet feet and will not do well in boggy areas.  

Planting and Pruning Camellias  

Once you’ve tested and amended your soil and have selected a well-drained location, it’s time to plant your camellia bush. Because camellias can’t tolerate overly wet soil, make sure you don’t plant them too deeply or mulch them too heavily. This can lead to rot and eventual plant death.  

To avoid this, dig the hole the same depth as the root ball. Add a few inches of loosened soil back into the hole. You can mix this with amended garden soil to help optimize growth.    

When you set the plant, the top of the root ball should be slightly above ground level. Slope the remaining dirt toward the top of the root ball without covering it, and then mulch lightly.  

Despite not liking wet feet, newly-planted camellias do require frequent watering until their root system is established.   

Larger varieties of camellias will likely require pruning to maintain their shape. As a general rule of thumb, you should prune camellias immediately after blooming to allow new bud formation for the following season.  

Common Problems with Camellias 

Like all living things, camellias are prone to certain health conditions and diseases. Often, these arise from improper growing conditions or insect infestations. Some common problems include:  

  • Tea Scale: This insect pest most frequently appears in April on the undersides of leaves. It can cause yellowish splotches, loss of foliage, and in extreme cases, plant death. To help control it, pesticidal oil should be applied to the entire plant early in the morning when temperatures are mild (between 45-85 degrees.)  
  • Sunburn: Yes, plants can get sunburned, too. Camellias prefer at least partial shade. If they are planted in full sun, the leaves may develop yellow or brown patches resembling burn marks on the upper side.  
  • Leaf Gall: Affecting mostly sasanquas, leaf gall appears on new leaves in the spring. Leaves become swollen and twist into unnatural shapes. Removal of affected leaves is the preferred treatment, as the condition will not spread to older parts of the camellia or to other plants.  
  • Scab: Irregular, brown spots appear on leaves due to excess moisture. Improving drainage conditions will help resolve the problem.  
  • Petal Blight Disease: Caused by the fungus Ciboriia camelliae, which overwinters in the soil near the affected plant. Removing diseased plant material and disposing offsite helps reduce spread. 

Popular Varieties of Camellias  

The most popular camellia variety globally isn’t usually found in most home gardens. Camellia sinensis is a species of camellia used to make tea. If you do choose to grow it, you can harvest the leaves and make your own green, black, and oolong teas, depending upon the timing of the harvest.  

However, our focus is on the camellia cultivars that work well in Atlanta-area gardens and landscapes. Here are seven of our favorites:  

  • April Dawn: This C. japonica hybrid grows 6-8 feet tall and produces candy-striped pink and white double blooms.    
  • Debutante: Living up to its name, this C. japonica is the belle of the garden ball. It has one of the longest blooming seasons, producing large pink peony-like blooms from October through May.  
  • Yuletide: Dramatic shades of red and green give this C. sasanqua its name. Reaching heights of up to 10 feet tall at maturity, Yuletide blooms late fall through winter.  
  • Chansonette: An award-winning C. sasanqua cultivar with lavender-pink flowers. Growing to just three feet in height, it is frequently used to form borders or hedges.   
  • October Magic White Shi Shi: Another dwarf camellia variety, this C. sasanqua is perfect for landscapes with limited space. Three-inch formal double blooms with white petals adorn glossy foliage from October through December.  
  • Kanjiro: This C. sasanqua features stunning pink semi-double flowers edged in red. Unlike many camellias, it also produces a slight fragrance.  
  • Camellia x williamsii: This is a japonica hybrid camellia. It’s among the most cold-hardy camellia varieties, and regarded as one of the best camellias for general gardening.

 If you have questions about which type of camellia is right for your landscape, or would like to schedule installation or maintenance services, contact Creech Landscape at 770-988-4635.  

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