Camellia japonica or Japanese camellia blooms when few other plants do. Bloom time is in late fall, winter, or early spring. The Camellia japonica has beautiful glossy leaves, dense foliage, and large blooms from late winter through early spring.
There are hundreds of cultivars, and bloom color ranges from white to pale pink to dark red; blooms are either single or double blooms. Some flowers are up to five inches in diameter. Camellias are hardy in Zones 7 and 8; some cultivars can be grown in Zone 6. Camellia japonica is normally hardy to 10°F, but sudden changes in temperature can damage the foliage or kill open flower buds. When you are selecting a place to plant you need to keep this in mind. There are many new cultivars that have exceptional winter hardiness so a little research might expand your options.
Camellias grow best in partial shade; they do not like early morning or late afternoon sun. As a general rule red blooming cultivars are more sun tolerant then white or pink flowering cultivars. In the winter camellias need protection from direct sun and drying winds. A planting site under tall pine trees or on the north or west side of a building is ideal. Plants grown in full sun may develop leaf scorch.
Camellias grow best in a loose, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic. A pH between 5.5 and 6.5 is recommended. Late fall to early spring is the best time to plant camellias. Space plants according to their mature size. Most cultivars will spread 6 to 8 feet in diameter. Some cultivars are more upright.
Camellias are shallow rooted: they do not like “wet feet.” Select a site that is well drained or plant in raised beds or mounds. Camellias must have good soil aeration or they will die from drowning or root rot. Incorporate a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic matter such as pine bark mulch before planting. With the possible exception of super phosphate (0-46-0), no fertilizer should be used at planting.
Many gardeners over-fertilize their camellias. It’s best to not fertilize the first growing.
The camellia flourishes in shaded or semi-shaded positions, and sheltered in cold climates. Visit your local botanical garden or university campus to see mature plantings. Well-draining neutral to acid soil is essential. This plant dislikes changes in temperature, irregular watering or being moved. Even a change in humidity can cause it to drop its buds. Until the buds open, keep at a maximum temperature of 45°F; then it may be kept a little warmer. After flowering keep about 45° to 50°F. Buds appear in clusters. Removing all but one will increase the size of the flower. Camellias last many years and can be grown as a shrub or small tree. Grow in light shade. Water fairly freely using tepid water and provide good drainage. Fertilize monthly in spring and summer with special acid fertilizer.
Japanese camellia is best known for its lovely white, red, pink or variegated flowers, two to five inches across, blooming from fall to spring in warmer areas and in early spring in cooler areas. A compact growing habit, gorgeous glossy green foliage, and a showy profusion of bloom account for the wide popularity of this large, handsome, long-lived shrub.
Watch for aphids, mealybugs, mites and scale. Yellow leaves with green veins may mean too little acidity in the soil. Some flower bud dropping may be natural, but some may be caused by overwatering, more by under watering, especially during summer or periods of low humidity. Limit pruning to removing dead or damaged wood, unproductive branches, and disproportionately long shoots. Prune right after flowering or during early summer to stimulate branching. Pruning later in the year can remove flower buds.
Although it seems these beautiful plants must have been born here, in truth they hail from eastern and southern Asia. More than 3,000 named kinds of camellias exist, in a remarkable range of colors, forms, and sizes; they are not browsed by deer.
Common Name: Camellia
Type: Broadleaf evergreen
Zone: 7 to 9
Height: 7 to 12 feet (Under ideal conditions can grow much taller)
Width: 5 to 10 feet (Under ideal conditions can grow much wider)
Bloom Time: Late fall, winter, or early spring
Bloom Description: White, pink, red, yellow, and lavender
Light: Part shade
Cultivars & Varieties
Following is a list of Camellia japonica varieties that are old standbys. The listing specifies bloom season and flower size. The earliest types start blooming in November, while late varieties still have flowers in May. Very large flowers are over 5 inches in diameter, large are 4 inches, medium are 3 inches, small are 2 inches or less across.
- ‘Adolphe Audusson’ – Midseason; very large; red.
- ‘Betty Sheffield Supreme’ – Late; large; red.
- ‘Berenice Boddy’ – Midseason; medium; light pink.
- ‘Daikagura’ – Early-late; large; rose-red.
- ‘Debutante’ – Early-midseason; medium-large, pink.
- ‘Desire’ – Midseason; medium large; pale pink.
- ‘Kramer’s Supreme’ – Midseason; very large; red.
- ‘Kumasaka’ – Midseason-late; medium-large; pink.
- ‘Lady Clare’ – Midseason-late; large; dark pink; above-average cold hardiness.
- ‘Magnoliaeflora’ – Midseason; medium; pale-pink.
- ‘Mathotiana’ – Midseason-late; very large; crimson.
- ‘Guilio Nuccio’ – Midseason; very large; rose.
- ‘Nuccio’s Gem’ – Midseason; medium-large, white.
- ‘Pink Perfection’ – Early; large; pink.
- ‘R.L. Wheeler’ – Late; large; red.
- ‘Rev. John G. Drayton’ – Late; semi-double; carmine-rose.
More Information On Varieties
County Line Nursery: Varieties with photos
NC State University Cooperative Extension: Select Camellia japonica Cultivars