I am still being a lazy blogger and I am feeling a bit guilty about it too! So I decided to post the column I wrote for The Cook/Editors magazine. It is for the July issue, so you are getting a preview!
Mature camellias like a light annual trim after flowering. Trim off any protruding or untidy branches to keep the shape you want. They happily withstand quite heavy pruning when required, so don’t be afraid to bring out the loppers, or even the chain saw. Following a severe haircut, don’t expect flowers the next season, but you will be well rewarded the following year.
One of the greatest winter delights, in a cool climate garden, must be a Camellia. Originating in the mountains of East Asia, there are several hundred species with different flower forms, ranging in size from small bushes to tall trees.
Gardening wisdom states, Camellias grow best in a sheltered position, which receives plenty of morning sun and good dappled shade in the afternoon. However, different cultivars have different needs.
- Camellia japonica prefers dappled shade and will even flower in quite dense shade.
- Camellia sasanqua grows equally well in dappled shade and full sun.
- Camellia reticulata (a newer variety with the biggest and most spectacular blooms) grows fast and strong possibly reaching eight metres, needs protection from frost.
As a rule of thumb, camellias with lighter coloured flowers do better in a more protected site, whereas the darker coloured ones can withstand more direct sunlight. My advice is to read the label, carefully, and choose a variety to suit your situation. If your camellia isn’t thriving because it is in a bad position, remember they will tolerate being transplanted. Springtime is best, but they can be moved successfully at other times too.
I suggest you don’t bother with specially formulated camellia and rhododendron food. Camellias do just as well on a bit of decomposed organic matter or rotted leaves. Preferring acidic soils, they enjoy a dressing of well-composted pine needles. Never use lime, or empty the ash from your fire, around your camellia. If the leaves on your camellia turn yellow, it is probably due to the soil being too alkaline, which prevents the plant from taking up iron. Counter this by adding some chelate of iron to the soil – available from good hardware or nurseries.
Left to grow, with just a bit of tip pruning, you will end up with a small, bushy flowering tree. Just use your thumb and forefinger to pinch out the tips after each flush of growth. Camellias also make great hedges and can, with careful pruning, be kept quite short or even shaped. Another option is to prune off the lower branches to create a tree, as a specimen in a lawn or to allow planting below. Camellias can be trained as standards.