Caring for Camellias

By Pat Naughton

Camellias are cherished plants of the south.  Their pink, red, and white flowers provide a sense of spring in fall and winter.  Proper care can help maintain this plant healthy all year long.  Camellias are suitable for Brunswick county hardiness zone of 8A.  They are susceptible to cold injury.  Cold injury may occur to flower that open from December to April.  Here a few things you can do to protect camellias from winter injury.  Before a cold front arrives, make sure that camellias and other evergreen plants are watered well.  Fertilizing properly throughout the year will improve the health of the plant and will make it better able to withstand cold temperatures.  Planting in partial shade also provides protection from quickly changing temperatures.

  It is important to remove dead flowers and prune back camellias.  Flowers with irregular tan to light brown spots are a sign of flower blight.  The fungus develops small hard black covering that allows it to survive in soil.  Remove dead flowers off of the ground to prevent the fungus from spreading.  Pruning lower branches will improve air flow and allow access to dead flowers near the center of the plant.  Restricted air flow can lead to algal leaf spot and canker.  Algal leaf spot is present when leaves have blotches of silver-grey or tan raised spots.  Canker will cause new growth to wilt and drop off.  Prune back damaged leaves and stems and discard.  Sterilize pruning tools before using them on another plant.

  Established camellias appreciate regular water, as long as drainage it good.  They can survive and even thrive on little supplemental moisture.  Over watering can lead to rot root.  Yellowing leaves, with the oldest affected first, are a sign of root rot.

  Aphids, scale, and spider mites are a few pests that can damage camellias.  Aphids excrete honeydew that will cause the leaves to have a sooty mold.  Scale lives on the bottom of the leaf and, in severe infestations, can look fuzzy in a cluster.  Spider mites are very tiny (less than 1/50 inch) and found most commonly on the undersides of leaves. Eggs, cast skins, and silken webs are also signs of mites.  Insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils may be used to control these pests.

  Fertilize camellias with a commercial acid plant food after the flowers have dropped.  Camellias should be fertilized with materials containing 10 to 16 percent nitrogen. Some examples are 12-4-8, 12-6-6, or 16-4-8. These materials often have some nitrogen in slow release form. Generally, about 2 to 4 pounds per 1000 square feet of a complete fertilizer like the ones listed above is recommended per year. It is best to apply this fertilizer in a split application. Apply about one pound of fertilizer per 1000 square feet in March, May, and July. Don’t fertilize after August since it may promote new growth that could be damaged by cold temperatures later.

  Wilmington, officially recognized as a Camellia City, proudly hosts the Tidewater Camellia Club Show, which attracts exhibitors from all across the southeastern United States. Each year this historic show has grown to one of the largest, and best attended shows in the United States. Camellia experts display more than 1,000 blooms for evaluation by American Camellia Society judges.