Fascinating and exotic – with these two words the camellia japonica can be described. For decades, the camellia which originates in Asia enjoys great popularity with avid amateur gardeners. Entirely unjustly, the plants of the tea family are rumoured to be complex and difficult in care. With the right pieces of advice and patience, it succeeds effortlessly to cultivate the distinctive plants and foster their blossom during the winter.
- Family: Tea family
- Origin: Southeast Asia
- Growth height: 1 to 7 m
- Leaves: Dark green top side, light green bottom side, elliptically shaped
- Blooming period: December to March
- Blossom colour: White, red to pink
You can scarcely think of Chinese and Japanese gardens without thinking about camellias. Here, the evergreen plants of the tea family can reach an impressive height of 7 m. In our degrees of latitude, the well-known plant species can almost only be encountered in tubs.
Because of the restricted cold hardiness, it is difficult to cultivate the camellia japonica year-long in the garden. With the right preparations and techniques, it succeeds to induce a fascinating and long-lasting flowerage from December onwards. The beauties from the Far East make specific demands on the gardener but they are easy to cultivate.
The multiply branched, evergreen camellias are amply blossoming plants. Provided that their demands on the location are fulfilled correctly. In our climate zones this involves a high degree of effort for the avid amateur gardener. The blooming period of the Asian beauty lasts from December to January. A bright location provides the ideal precondition for the formation of the flower buds.
- during the summer older plants agree with direct sunlight
- a bright location in light half shade is ideal
- during frost in the winter the UV radiation can harm the leaves
- choose a warm, wind-protected place
Camellias are sensitive to low temperatures. Long-lasting sub-zero temperatures can harm the plant. The Problem: It is the cold which induces the plant to get an amply and long-lasting blossom. This is the reason why it is important to find the proper mean. In hardy regions it is not recommendable to engraft the camellia japonica permanently in the decorative bed.
Here, cultivation in solid tubs is advisable. The advantage: If needed, the Far Eastern plants can be quickly relocated into a frost-resisting room. A bright, cold winter garden is well suited so that the camellias can show their full flowerage. At temperatures between 12° and 15°C, the blooming period can reach just over 5 weeks.
A low PH value of the soil supports the growth of the decorative plants from Asia. The plants do not get along with stagnant moisture. In the garden, fine pebble stones untighten the substrate and prevent a densification of the soil. In the tub, a drainage makes sure that spare watering and rain water flows off easily. Soil for azaleas and rhododendrons from specialist shops fulfil the needs of the camellia japonica. Optionally, you can mix the substrate by yourself with the following components.
- Potting soil
Instead of turf, “conifer soil” can be used. It can be found, as the name implies, under big conifer trees or conifer forests.
After the blooming period in the winter, the phase of vegetation of the camellia japonica is not over just yet. Now, the proper growth of the plant begins. As it is valid for all evergreen plants: The root ball must not run dry. One ought to keep it equally damp.
Following pieces of advice have been proven to be useful:
- use stale supply or rain water
- a high lime content cannot harm the plant
- repour when the topmost layer of earth is dry
- lower the amount of watering from October on and increase it not until the blooming period
If the roots of the decorative plant are exposed to soil wetness for a longer period of time, the infestation with root rot can be promoted. Reliable remedy can be found by using a drainage. Outdoors the bottom should be mulched regularly. Watering is to be done in the early morning and evening hours.
A thick layer of bark mulch can prevent that the valuable humidity evaporates too quickly. The plant does not object to the regularly soaking of the leaves with a spray flacon on dry summer days.
To support the growth and an ample blossom, camellias need an accurate supply with nutrients and mineral nutrients. Manuring is to be done from February to the beginning of July. More is less – this mission statement is also well-tried for this decorative plants.
- use a liquid green manure
- Camellias need a high amount of nitrogen
- the manure is applied via the watering
In regard to the topic of “manuring”, the plants are sensitive to variation. Mistakes can have a direct effect on the blossom. For example, if manuring is done in the summer, the camellia is triggered to cultivate new bastard branches. However, the plant needs its power for the blossom, which might stay away in this case.
Blank leaf tips and edges might hint at a too high amount of nutrient salts. The Asian plants react sensitively to this. To keep the plants away from more harm, the substrate should be changed completely. Until the camellias are recovered, manuring is to be done with a reduced amount of nutrients.
Sowing and breeding
Fructiferous camellias are seldom encountered because of the early blooming period. Those who want to breed their decorative plants by seeds, should use those from the specialist shop – or trigger the fruit formation of the already present plants. With a brush, one goes over the pistil of the camellias several times.
If the artificial insemination was successful, after the blooming period the plants form the green fruits which have a size of 1 to 6 cm. Directly after the ripeness, the fruiting body breaks open and sets free 3 to 12 dark brown seeds.
Camellia japonica belongs to the cold-germination plants. To break the dormancy of the seeds, they have to be exposed to the cold for a couple of weeks. Artificially, this can be achieved by putting the seeds into the lowest shelf of the refrigerator for about 28 days. The grains of the camellia quickly lose their germination capacity. This is the reason why it is not advisable to dry the seeds and place them into storage for a longer period of time.
- fill lean soil into a shallow pot
- spread the seeds and cover them with a minimal amount of substrate
- humidify the ground with a spray flacon
- avoid stagnant moisture
- a cool, light location is ideal
- avoid direct sunlight
The plants, which originate in Asia, usually germinate quickly. Mostly, the first green shoot apexes show up after 2 weeks. Due to the fact that not every seed reliably casts out, it is advisable to bring out as much seeds as possible. When the germ buds have reached a height of about 8 cm, they can be choked and be resettles into a separate pot.
A spoon has been proven useful for this action. This avoids damages of the root. The stress of the young plant is reduced. A small drop of bitterness which is directly connected to the sowing: Plants cultivated by seeds have a late blooming period. It is known that it took some exemplars 10 years to show their flowerage.
The roots of the camellias are shallow and run only few centimetres below the ground. This needs to be taken into account for the choice of the tub. In wide pots, the plants can spread and absorb easily water and nutrients. To impede the overly growth of sub terrestrial plant parts, the pot should have a size at most 5 cm bigger than the root ball. The material of tub is of secondary importance. Plastic pots become brittle over time but they can be transported easily and effortlessly.
Before inserting the plant, a drainage should be installed at the bottom of the tub. This consists of porous, non-decaying material such as lava split, clay fragments or pebble stones. To unfold the function of the layer, it should have a height of ca. 4 cm. Directly above this, the drainage is covered with 5 cm of substrate.
- cautiously release the roots of the camellia from old substrate
- grant the plant a bath in lukewarm water for 15 minutes
- insert the plant into the new pot
- refill empty spots with fresh soil
- water strongly
A general statement when camellia should be repot cannot be made. It is profitable to completely replace the substrate every 2 to 3 years. While doing so, you can slightly shorten the roots of the camellia japonica. The plant is not harmed by this.
The outdoor planting is carried out similarly. The whole should have twice the size of the root ball. Slightly untighten the surrounding ground and insert the plant. Under opportune climate conditions the camellias evolve into fancy shrubs. A minimal distance of about 50 cm between the plants has been proven beneficial. For a cultivation in hydroponics, camellias are only conditionally suitable.
During the warm summer months is easy to reproduce camellias by shoots. The recovery of the plant starts in early July. To speed up the formation of roots, a slightly lignified sprout needs to be chosen. Older parts of the plants are more “headstrong”. It is not always possible to reliably breed a new plant from them.
- separate the shoots of a length of 5 to 8 cm with a sharp knife
- remove the leaves of the bottom part completely
- coat the bottom part with a rooting powder
- insert the sprouts in lean soil
- keep the substrate equally humidified
- the location should be light and warm
The shoots of camellias prefer a high air humidity. This preference can be easily fulfilled with tiny greenhouses. Optionally, a perforated film, which is put over the pot, can be used. Shashlik spits or toothpicks avoid that the material comes into direct contact with the substrate. The film must be removed for at least half an hour each day.
By sufficient air circulation, the danger of mould formation is reduced. The proper substrate is an important aspect of the growing of the camellias and can decide about success or failure. For example, a mixture of potting soil, turf and sand has been proven useful.
If and when the formation of the roots was successful can be seen by the growth of new leaves and shoots. The young camellias should stay in the breeding pot for some time. Due to their sensitivity, the sprouts react susceptibly to changes. In spring is relevant that the plants slowly get used to sunlight and cold temperatures.
Despite the hibernal blooming period, camellias are sensitive to frost. Older plants bear temperature of down to -8°C. Younger plants bear much less. To keep the camellia japonica from becoming a victim of the cold season, precautions must be taken. It is risky to hope for a mild winter and keep the plants outdoors.
A warm location at the southern wall of the house and a substrate which is covered with bark mulch or brushwood is not enough, when the temperatures drop below -5°C permanently. A frost-protected greenhouse or the light stairway is suitable for the overwintering of the camellia japonica.
- avoid draught for overwintering
- active heat sources should not be around near
- water sparingly, prevent stagnant moisture
- do not manure
- provide for a high air humidity, for example with the help of containers filled with water
- optionally, soak the plants every 2 to 3 days with a spray flacon
Before the beginning of the blooming period, the temperature of the environments needs to be raised to 10° to 15°C. As soon as late frost is not imminent anymore, the camellia can be resettled its location in the garden. Despite of long lasting breeding and new hybrid species it was not possible to grow a hardy breed.
The Asian plants are sturdy but are not completely immune to defective insects and diseases. Scale insects love the flavourful cell sap of the camellias. The disagreeable animals can develop a resistance against insecticides. This the reason why chemical means from the specialist shop should be used only with great caution.
- collect insects by hand
- soak and water regularly with nettle brew
- do not remove the shells with a knife
- Nematodes, round worms, are efficient herbivores
Limp leaves and decay of the blossoms of the camellia japonica cannot always be explained by mistakes in care. If the blossoms and buds decay from the inside, camellia pest can account for this in many cases. This disease circulates in Europa for some years now. To confine an infestation, the infested plant parts should be cut off immediately and get disposed of through the household garbage.
Those who are looking for camellias will find a huge variety of different breeds in a well-sorted gardeners’ specialist shop. The plants make the same demands in regard to care and location conditions. The differences are located in their blossom colour and growth height.
Camellia japonica ‘Flame’
- the blossoms of this breed stick out by their bright red colour
- the blooming period starts in January
Camellia japonica ‘William Barlett’
- late blooming camellias which attract attention by their pink-white spotted blossoms
Camellia japonica ‘Hagoromo’
- light red blossoms and bright yellow pistil are the hallmarks of this breed
Camellia japonica ‘Margaret Davis’
- the blooming period of this camellia beauty starts in January
- because of their white blossom leaves with pink edges, this breed serves as an interesting touch of colour in the winter garden
Camellia japonica ‘Yuris Yellow’
- striking are the white blossom leaves and the heavily crinkled, yellow centre