Camellias are known as the Queen of Winter flowers as they bloom when almost all other flowers have stopped blooming. They can bloom from October through to May, depending on the variety and your growing zone. They are slow growing shrubs, taking up to 3 years to become fully established in your landscape, but are long lived shrubs, with some specimens living up to 100 years old and older, especially in their native habitats. Camellias are flowering evergreen shrubs in the Theaceae family. With around 300 different species and over 3,000 hybrids, these plants are found all over eastern and southern Asia, the Himalayas, Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia.
Camellias have glossy evergreen leaves, typically oval with a point, and some have finely serrated edges. There are several varieties of Camellia, and then hundreds if not thousands of hybrids that have been developed over the years by horticulturists and even backyard gardeners. The basic varieties are C. sasanqua, C. japonica, C. reticulata, C. vernalis, C. heimalis and C. sinensis. Sasanquas and Japonicas remain gardeners’ favorites, but Reticulata is gaining in popularity as collectors look for more varieties to add to their collections.
Camellia blooms come in several different forms and are categorized as: single, semi-double, anemone, formal double, rose formal double and full peony. Bloom colors can vary from white, blush pink, coral, dark pink, fuchsia, purple, red, and yellow, and can be solid colored, variegated, blotched, and striped. Bloom time varies by variety, but in general there are early blooming varieties which typically bloom from October through January, mid season varieties which bloom from January to March, late season varieties which bloom from March to May and early to late season varieties which bloom the longest from November through to May in the Northern Hemisphere.
The Best Way to Use Camellias
Location, location, location! Camellias are relatively care free evergreen shrubs, but choosing the right location for them in the very beginning is crucial. Most camellias prefer part to full shade, and protection from harsh winter winds so locating them properly in your landscape is crucial. Protection from morning and afternoon sun is best for most varieties, although the C. sasanqua is a bit more tolerant of sun than the other varieties.
Camellias are best utilized in your landscape as a woodland edge shrub, especially when they are first established. A northern or western location will provide the most shade. Mature size varies by variety, but a general guide is that they can grow from 18” to 25 feet tall, and 18” to 12 feet wide, so select a location that will allow the fully mature shrub the room it needs to expand over the years and plan to not move it again. Camellias have a tap root when first grown that is typically stunted when it has been grown in a container for any length of time, so the shrub then develops a fibrous shallow mat of roots that dislike being disturbed and must be kept moist at all times. A fine bark mulch that is 4 to 5 inches deep will help keep roots cool and moist.
Often drought resistant once established, especially if they are allowed to develop a tap root from the beginning, camellias are also deer resistant, making woodland edge plantings a possibility. The most favored location for a camellia to thrive in is under an evergreen tree canopy where the soil is typically acidic. Camellias need a slightly acidic soil for proper nutrient take up. The most famous camellia of all is the C. sinensis from which we derive white, green and black tea. It is grown primarily for tea production as its flowers are small and not as showy as its cousins.
Long bloom time, from 3 to 6 months
White, pink, red, coral, purple and yellow flowers
Full or partial shade locations
Mature size up to 25 feet tall and 12 feet wide
Hardy from Zones 6 to 11
Landscaping Tip: Camellias can solve the problem of what to plant in that deeply shaded area of your landscape as well as live happily in a partially shaded area. They make delightful container plants for gardeners outside of the hardiness zone, especially when they can be wintered in an unheated garage.
Camellia Companion Plants
Camellias can be planted as a specimen shrub, highlighting the glossy evergreen foliage and bright fall, winter or spring flowers, or they can be planted with other acid loving, shade loving shrubs like azaleas and rhododendrons.