Camellia Care Guide (How to Grow Gorgeous Camellias In Your Garden)

Find out everything you need to know about Camellia care so that you can plant, grow and prune beautiful Camellias in your garden.

Camellia Care Guide: How To Grow Camellias
Camellia Care Guide: How To Grow Camellias

This time of year, my absolute favorite plants in the whole world are Camellias. Which is mostly due to the fact that they are evergreen shrubs and bloom in the winter.

But these bushes don’t just bloom. They have big beautiful “see them from across the yard” blooms.

If you plant them in the right place, you don’t even have to go outside to enjoy them.

Camellia in a container by the deck
Camellia in a container by the deck

I did just that (accidentally I have to admit). I planted one in a container that is straight across the yard from my bedroom window.

In the winter, when I open my curtains in the morning, I can see its gorgeous blooms. It’s a good thing it’s a winter blooming plant, too.  In the summer, there are so many other bushes and trees with leaves in the way that the view would be blocked.

Camellia japonica 'Debutante'
Camellia japonica ‘Debutante’

Of course, they are even prettier viewed up close, and if you have planted a fragrant variety, you won’t want to miss the wonderful scent.

In case you love them as much as I do and were wondering what is required for Camellia care, I thought I would share what I’ve learned.

Where To Plant Camellias

Zones: 6 – 10

Sun: Part shade

Height: 18″ – 25′

Width: 18″ – 12′

This is somewhat of a new found love for me. Camellias are more of a warm-climate bush, so I wasn’t able to grow them when I lived in Toronto (although I was always jealous of people who could!)

When I moved to South Carolina, I made sure to get one…and since then I have amassed quite a collection of them.

Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Jewel'
Camellia japonica ‘Nuccio’s Jewel’

Depending on the variety, they can be small bushes (4′ tall and wide), small trees (25′ tall and 12′ wide) or pretty much anything in between. So make sure to get one that will fit the spot where you want to plant it.

While most Camellias thrive in zones 7 – 9, there are some varieties that can be grown in colder temperatures (zone 6) and or warmer ones (zone 10). Check the label to make sure the bush you are buying is suitable for your area.

Camellia Care: How To Grow Beautiful Camellias

In general, Camellias prefer part shade, especially in the afternoon. Although once they get going, they are pretty adaptable. I have some that are growing in full sun and some in pretty close to full shade, and they all are doing quite well.

How To Grow Camellias

Camellia Care: How To Grow Beautiful Camellias

Camellias are fairly slow growing plants which means it takes them quite a while to get established after they are planted.

Their shallow root system also means they can dry out quickly.  Because of this, I always apply a 3″ – 4″ layer of double-ground bark mulch around the plants. It helps to regulate the soil temperature and the moisture levels.

I also try to install soaker hoses around them so it is easier to make sure that they get the water they need.

Camellias grow best in soil that is slightly acidic (similar to Rhododendrons and Mountain Laurel). To make sure they are happy with their growing conditions, you can apply a little Rhododendron and Azalea fertilizer* in the spring which will promote healthy leaves. Although don’t overdo it, or you can burn those shallow roots.

If you live at the northern end of their range (zone 6), you may want to plant your Camellias in the spring to give them some time to settle in before the colder winter weather strikes.

Pruning Camellias

Camellia japonica 'Jerry Hill'
Camellia japonica ‘Jerry Hill’

I do very little in the way of pruning when it comes to Camellias.

They grow in a very mannerly way, so they rarely need to be shaped. I just cut out the occasional dead branch.

If you do need to prune them for some reason, do it right after they finish blooming so you don’t remove next year’s buds.

Bud Drop

Camellia Care: How To Grow Beautiful Camellias

One thing to note…most of my Camellias have some buds that fail to open and just drop off the plants. I always wondered if I was missing something in my Camellia care that was causing this…so I decided to find out.

According to the Clemson University Camellia Guide, this could be caused by not enough water in the summer (entirely possible some years around here).

But it is also a normal phenomenon with Camellias. Apparently, many of them set more buds than they can open, and the rest just fall off.

Types of Camellias

There are quite a few different species of Camellia, but here are a few of the most common:

Camellia japonica

Camellia japonica 'Mrs D.W. Davis'
Camellia japonica ‘Mrs D.W. Davis’

Camellia japonica is the most common species and there’s a reason why.

It has a really wide selection of varieties with different heights, flower colors and sizes, and bloom times. You can also find just about any shape of flower that you like – single, semi-double, double, formal double or full peony form.

If you buy a few different plants and pay attention to when they bloom, you can have at least one of these Camellias flowering in your garden from September all the way until April.

Camellia sasanqua and Camellia vernalis

Camelia vernalis 'Yuletide'
Camelia vernalis ‘Yuletide’

Camellia sasanqua and Camellia vernalis  tend to be on the smaller side of the height range and have somewhat smaller flowers with single or semi double blooms.

Their big claim to fame is that most of them are fragrant. Who doesn’t love beautiful flowers that also smell good?

Camellia sinensis

Camellia sinensis or Tea Camellia

Camellia sinensis By KENPEI, CC BY-SA 3.0

Camellia sinensis is also known as the Tea Camellia. Although it blooms in the fall, many people grow it (as you might have guessed) to make tea leaves.  Green, black, white and oolong teas all are produced from the tea camellia foliage.

I don’t have one of these in my garden yet, but the pink-blooming variety is on my list!

Hint: If you are trying to find Camellias that bloom at different times, gardenia.net has a Camellia search tool that will help.

For information on other shade-loving bushes, check out this list of bushes that grow under trees.

Have comments or questions on Camellia care? Tell us in the section below.




Camellia Care: How To Grow Beautiful Camellias

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