Camellias are one of most misunderstood group of shrubs and often wrongly described as being difficult to grow. There are just a few things to bear in mind when deciding to grow camellias. Understand those and you will be rewarded by years of pleasure in the darkest winter months.
Camellias are winter flowering evergreen shrubs, growing to several metres ultimate height - depending upon variety and planting situation.
The most important thing to be aware of, is the fact that they are all ericaceous plants. That is to say that they will not live in alkaline - lime -soils. They require an acid soil with a ph of less than 6.5ph. If you can grow Rhododendrons and azaleas, then there should be no problems growing camellias.
It is possible to have camellias flowering from late autumn/early winter, right through to the onset of spring or even early summer. Most camellias are long flowered – some more than others – and all should give at least a month of flower in all but the severest of weather.
The flower colour range is from purest white through all pink shades and stopping at deepest crimson red. Flowers are rounded, and can be single, semi-double or full double. In short there will be Camellia to suit – whatever you preference (other than blue!)
Flowers are generally 2 – 4 in across (sometimes as much as 5in), and normally held towards the tips of the branches and lateral shoots - often weighing slender branches down with their weight.
Rounded spear shaped dark green and glossy evergreen foliage, normally terminating in a pointed end, makes it an attractive shrub throughout then year, and is particularly good when acting as contrast for plants with autumnal tints. The shrubs are generally densely-foliaged though a few have a slightly open and loose habit.
Most camellias are happiest in semi or dappled shade. Many will grow in a position where there is only minimal sunlight - such as the north side of house or fence. Ideally though, a woodland or tree shaded situation is best. As with many things gardening, there are exceptions to the rule. Camellias are no different, in that one group - Camellia sasanqua - will grow in a sunny situation (as well as in the normal dappled shade areas).
Some Camellias will grow to 4-6 meters – even more – but most are happy to settle in at around 2m or even less. Good pruning can help to keep the shrub within bounds, but proper choice of position would be preferable. Container grown Camellias rarely reach more than 1.5 metres – unless you specifically pot and grow with larger in mind!
Camellias have a reputation for losing their flowers before they are fully open. This is generally because they have been planted in a situation where they are subject to sun in the morning during the winter months. This does not harm the plant itself, but thaws out frozen flower buds too quickly resulting in the buds dropping off the plant. Camellias planted in a semi-woodland situation or in north facing aspect do not normally suffer so. If grown in a large container, I always advise it to be positioned on the north side of the house.
Camellias are excellent for growing in large containers, and can be trained and pruned into pyramidal shape if need be. Containers are particularly useful when living in a lime soil area.
Camellias will give many years of pleasure if you avoid the basic pitfalls of planting in alkaline soil; growing in exposed situations; Planting in full sun, and not allowing for the potential mature size.
Camellias can suffer attacks from aphids assorted, and this generally results in unsightly sooty mould unless dealt with promptly. Other than that, Aphids seem not to be a life-threatening problem – unless grown in a conservatory or under glass.
Leaves turning yellow (generally chlorosis) – is normally a sign of lime in the soil – or with container plants, watering with tap water in alkaline water areas.
Camellias can be propagated by several types of cuttings - rarely from seed. They can also be grafted by those with the know-how.
Leaf Bud Cuttings are the norm - taken in late summer. A stem of the current season's growth is simply cut into sections with just one leaf attached! Scrape the bark at the rear of the leaf and bud - or just slightly removing a sliver. Apply Rooting powder. These sections are then placed into a heated propagator in the normal way, or inserted around the edge of a pot and enclosed with a clear plastic bag until rooted. Do not let the cuttings suffer in the heat of summer/autumn sun. Keep shaded.
Semi Ripe cuttings will also root as the above method, if you just want to increase a few plants.
Alternatively, the cuttings can be kept in a cold frame until rooted.