Camellias are romantic stars of the winter garden and tend to be long-lived and fairly easy to grow in their favored conditions. Watering is one area where they are picky, however. If the soil is too wet, your plant risks dying from root rot, and if your camellia gets too thirsty, it will not thrive.
Lack of water, especially when about to flower, can cause malformed buds. Inconsistent watering interrupts nutrient uptake, leading to stunted growth. So, it’s a matter of striking the right balance of supplying water in a soil medium that drains well.
How Often to Water Camellia
Camellias are looking for that “sweet spot” between having readily available moisture and oxygen – meaning air around their roots. Thus, they require a bit more care in planning the site from sun to the surrounding soil. Disliking “wet feet” (roots), the amount that you water will depend on its location and growing conditions.
You want to water often enough so that the soil is generally like a wrung-out sponge – some say you need to water fully to a depth of 14 inches – assuming you have very well-drained soil. Before you water, test as far down as you can with your hand or gently with a trowel into the soil (the mulch doesn’t count), and wait until the soil is dry about six inches down.
If you’ve ever cared for a houseplant like a Maidenhair fern, it’s the same idea. Once you get a feel for it, you’ll know how often your camellia is drying out in your yard. When newly planted, in the ground or a container and for the plant’s first two years growing in your garden, it’s important to keep a closer eye on the soil moisture.
Once your camellia is established, after approximately two or three years, mature shrubs are well-rooted enough to be more tolerant of dry periods. If the shrub is shading its own roots with its growth, that helps it preserve moisture. This does not make them a drought-tolerant plant, just one that needs less TLC from the gardener.
If you had to water twice a week in the first two years in dry spells, now you can probably go every one-to-two weeks, but again there is no rule for every condition.
Camellias in pots need more close attention from you. To make matters easier, start with a pot with excellent drainage – at least one hole in the base. Keep in mind the better the drainage, the thirstier the plant will be, requiring water more often. Then choose a potting mix that is high in organic matter, that also includes pumice or other drainage-promoting materials.
There are potting mixes made for acidic-soil plants like azaleas and camellias. The next step would be to add some organic mulch such as bark chips or pine needles – this will stall moisture evaporation at the base of the plant.
Plan to check the soil moisture with your hand or trowel about six inches down before you water, perhaps every three days in dry weather during the first two years’ growing seasons. Keep in mind the smaller the pot, the more often you’ll need to water. If it feels moist inside, wait until it’s dry. Once established, the plant should be able to go five to seven days without watering.
Best Time to Water Camellia
At any time of year, watering is best done early in the morning when the sun can dry the leaves before cooler night temperatures descend. Early evening is a close second choice, but if your camellia is definitely thirsty, go ahead and water immediately – better to risk a potential mildew attack than the roots' health. Watering in the sunshine will not damage your plants’ leaves.
Mulch again in fall if necessary. In winter, watering well before a frost is recommended if your plant’s roots are dry, and it’s either in a pot or is still getting established within its first two years in your garden.
How to Water Camellia
Step 1 – Prepare for Success
Choose a full sun-partial shade location in nutritious, well-draining soil, and mulch with organic matter to keep the roots cool and shaded. Drainage is key.
Step 2 – Evenly Moist
Camellias need regular, consistent moisture but dislike soggy soil. Test for dryness several inches into the soil before watering, then saturate the roots. Check frequently with your hand during the first two years, especially in dry or hot conditions, or if your camellia is potted. Timed irrigation systems can help maintain consistency.
Step 3 – Get Ready for Next Year
Mulch your camellia again in fall if your bark chips have broken down, and keep evenly watered through winter, particularly before a frost.
Camellia Watering Tips
- Regular watering/moisture is critical.
- Timed irrigation systems are convenient
- Add mulch to retain moisture
- Well-drained soil and/or containers are important for oxygenating the roots.
- Check the soil for dryness before watering.
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Author Erica Browne Grivas - Published 11-16-2021