If you’re visiting this blog it’s because you’re a gardening enthusiast and you are fond of having various plants in your garden. And no wonder, all species are gorgeous and one of the prettiest is the camellias.
Camellias are very striking in color, shape, size and classification of their flowers. Besides, they add a spectacular style to the place where you place them, either inside or outside home.
In this blog, you’ll find this plant’s characteristics, care, how to grow it and the existing varieties. I’m sure it will help you to understand more about camellias and you”ll love to have your own.
Table of Contents
Characteristics of Camellias
Camellias are plants that come in a variety of shapes, colors, several flowering periods and a foliage that makes them decorative plants.
This is a genus with about 200 species and is native to Southeast Asia, China and Japan. They are planted in tropical and subtropical climates, they are also shrubs and can reach 2 to 10 meters high.
They’re classified as evergreen plants with a coriaceous appearance, that is to say, similar to leather. They are dark green and have full or slightly serrated and pointed edges. In addition to its ornamental use, we also extract its oil that is used for its antioxidant properties and in beauty products and perfumes.
I’ll now explain the morphology of this plant in detail, as they are so diverse and eye-catching.
Camellia flowers are solitary and develop on at least 1-year-old branches. The calyx, which is the outer covering of the flower, is formed by 5 to 9 sepals, or petals, which are green, short and coriaceous looking.
In between the calyx and the petals are the bracts, a kind of leaves of different colors including white, light green and reddish edges. As there is a great variety of species of this genus, it’s necessary to distinguish between the following types of flowers in terms of the petals and the flower shape, in order to distinguish them.
- Single (1): flowers whose corolla (set of petals) is formed by 1 or 2 unfinished turns. The stamens (male reproductive organ) are located in the center of the flower, and they’re numerous and visible.
- Semi-double (2): it has 2 to 4 petal layers and the stamens are located in the center. They are also visible and numerous.
- Double (3): flowers are formed by closely imbricated petals, one on top of the other, arranged in neat rows. Neither the stamen nor the pistil (female organ of the flower) is visible in the center.
- Peony (4): it’s a flower shape, rounded and wide, and it’s formed by mixed petals called petaloid. These are stamens that have turned into false petals that are very common in camellias.
- Anemone (5): in this form, the flower has 1 or 2 rows of petals and a nearly flat center composed of stamens and petaloid.
- Rose-shaped double (6): the flower has several rows of partially imbricated petals and the stamens are only visible at the end of flowering: they are also located in the center of the flower.
Likewise, flowers are classified by their diameter dimensions, which vary according to the species. We can find the following parameters:
- Miniature: less than 6 cm in diameter.
- Small: a diameter between 6 to 7,5 cm
- Medium: a diameter between 7,5 and 10 cm
- Large: a diameter between 10 and 13 cm
- Very large: diameter greater than 13 cm
Beyond these classifications, camellias can also be differentiated by the shape of their petals, namely, round, elliptical, heart-shaped or irregular. The petals’ edges can also have various shapes.
They can be found linear, wavy, engraved (with a mark in the center), striated (if one color predominates over another) or also serrated.
The leaves of camellias are alternately attached to the branches by means of a petiole, which is the leaf appendage. Their shape and size can vary according to the camellia species; however, the most common are elliptic and lanceolate.
The apex of the leaf, i.e. the tip, is pointed with serrated edges, although this differs from one species to another. As I mentioned at the beginning, they have a leather-like appearance and a shiny dark green or matte surface, depending on the camellia species.
The capsule that contains the fruit of camellias has a coriaceous aspect and woody texture. The number of seeds depends on the species and are released when the fruit ripens.
Ripening occurs when the coriaceous coating of the capsule shows a crack. After 1 or 2 days the fruit opens completely and the seeds can be extracted.
Camellia roots belong to the fasciculate type, that is, the main root doesn’t develop normally, rather it has secondary roots for this purpose.
These roots characteristically form a robust set and, moreover, grow on the surface instead of at great depth.
It’s essential to take this aspect into consideration in order to satisfy the space and location needs of camellias compared to other plants.
How to plant camellias?
You can grow your camellias directly in the garden or in a pot. Because of their striking appearance, they are great for decorating the exterior of your home as well as terraces or balconies.
Camellias in the garden
In case you want to plant them directly in the garden you can create hedges, a type of fence made of plants or other materials, with camellia varieties. Their flowers and leaves colors add a spectacular touch to the garden and can also provide a cooling effect on hot days.
Camellias that are planted in gardens can reach heights of 7 to 8 m and become the centerpiece. This is something to keep in mind when planting other species in the garden, so the plants won’t have to struggle for space or nutrients.
It’s recommended to use a large variety of camellias, remember that they have different colors and shapes, even when they belong to the same species. You can buy these plants already developed and with a good height.
If so, I recommend that you place them in a semi-shaded spot or under a tree, such as an oak tree.
On the other hand, if you prefer to plant your camellias in a pot, you should choose a plastic or clay pot with drainage holes.
Before adding the substrate you should put a layer of small stones to help drain excess water from watering. This substrate should be very fine so that it doesn’t suffocate the camellia’s roots.
When planting in pots, you must always ensure the right conditions for the plant to develop properly. Since the plant will not be in its natural environment the necessary nutrients, that are found in the soil, are not produced. For this reason, you should fertilize the camellia at least every 15 days during its growth, in small quantities though. You can use compost or fertilizer, which we discussed in previous blogs about the existing types of fertilizer.
If you want to strengthen the stem growth in younger plants you can use a nitrogen fertilizer. But if you want to encourage flowering and strengthen the branches and leaves, you could use a fertilizer rich in phosphorus and potassium.
Reproduction of camellias
You can reproduce your camellias by grafting, seeds or cuttings. Some may be more elaborate than others, but they can all be put into practice.
Reproduction by grafting
This is a technique that requires experience and skill.
It consists of joining 2 species of camellias. One part (the rootstock) is in charge of developing the roots, and the other (the graft), the branches, leaves and flowers. These 2 plants must be compatible because in order to grow a single plant it’s necessary to weld them together perfectly.
For choosing the rootstock it’s necessary to understand the requirements of the soil and how resistant it is to climatic and root diseases. Camellia sasanqua is perfect for this purpose as it has the required strength and is compatible with almost every species.
When choosing the graft, you should know the characteristics of the species in terms of vegetation development and flower characteristics. You can start with the approach grafting in order to put this process into practice.
This consists of cutting a piece of bark from the rootstock and grafting. By doing this the central part of the trunk is exposed, which is called sapwood, and the absorption of nutrients that help growth is activated. Finally, to join and weld the stems together you must tie them to each other.
Reproduction by seed
You can obtain the seeds from the camellia fruit, as mentioned earlier. It’s advisable to keep the seeds in absorbent cotton with water for 1 day so they can hydrate sufficiently. After this time, you can sow them in a seedbed with the appropriate substrate, which can be: peat, peat and sand or peat and perlite. You must keep this substrate humid and at a temperature of 20 °C so that the seeds can germinate.
Once they germinate you can transplant them to the final place. Note that plants that are sown by seed can have a growth delay of at least 1 year and about 4 years to flower.
This method is commonly used to make some genetic improvements or also to obtain new types of camellia. It is even used to produce rootstocks, i.e. plants more resistant to diseases or certain soils.
Reproduction by cuttings
This is the easiest, fastest and most recommended method to reproduce camellias, although not all species are suitable for this process. You must be aware of the type of cutting you are taking, the harvesting time, the conditions of the mother plant, the substrate and the cutting’s grasping conditions.
The right time to collect the sprouts is when they are very mature, the stems will turn brown and the sprouts will have a semi-woody consistency by them. You should use branch cuttings that should have 2 to 3 nodes (the point from which the leaves come out) and a length of 7 to 12 cm.
You should make the cut a few millimeters from the last node, the lowest of the cutting you want to cut, you can take several, as it is the part most likely to develop roots. The mother plants, from which you will take the cutting, must be young, healthy and nourished because in this way they will be able to develop stems or cuttings ideal to take.
Remember to remove some leaves from the cutting and possible flower buds so that it can develop better. You should use a substrate with equal parts peat and perlite or a mixture of peat and sand.
These substrates will help retain the amount of water needed for the plant and drain excess water, so the cuttings won’t have any problems while developing.
You can use pots or boxes to plant the cuttings in a row for 4 to 6 weeks. This way they’ll be able to develop roots; however, you must maintain optimal conditions. They should receive good humidity and a shaded location, avoiding dehydration.
Substrate for planting Camellias
These plants need a suitable soil and pH to develop. Camellias are acidophilic which means that they grow in acid soils with pH 5 or 6 – 6.5. In addition, it must be well fertilized, so you can use hummus made from plant and animal waste.
This means that the ideal substrate for camellias is ¼ sand, ¼ peat and the remaining half of heather soil. This soil is regarded as an organic amendment as it is a mixture of mineral and organic substances. It’s also considered an ideal substrate for camellias because, besides being organic, it has a pH of 4 or 5. Also, it’s light, porous, loose and permeable.
You need to renew the humus periodically by adding organic fertilizers or leaf litter. In this way, you’ll maintain proper soil fertility.
When to plant camellias?
You can plant your camellias at the beginning of autumn or spring, these seasons are ideal as they offer cool weather that encourages the development of the roots. Also, the hole in which you’re going to plant them should be at least twice the size of the root set.
If, for example, you are going to plant a camellia that already has roots, as a graft or cutting, you must make sure that the root ball doesn’t lose too much soil. Keep in mind that a root ball is the mass of soil attached to the roots. You must be careful because the roots could break and affect the plant, there is no rush so take it easy.
If you notice that the roots have grown much and in a circular or spiral shape, you can cut them a little so that the root system can renew itself. This happens when the camellia has grown in pots. So after cutting the roots, be sure to also cut off part of the plant’s crown, which contains the branches, leaves, flowers and fruit. Make a diagonal cut so that the plant doesn’t chafe under stress.
Care of camellias
Now that you know the methods for planting camellias and the necessary conditions for their proper development, I’ll talk about care. Important, as growing the plant and leaving it on its own is not enough.
Camellias like mild climates and can’t tolerate sudden temperature fluctuations. However, they can withstand cold and high summer or hot temperatures.
As an acidophilic plant, it requires luminous environments that allow it to shelter from direct sunlight during the hottest hours of the day. If your camellias are in a very dry area, with little humus and exposed to sunlight, they may develop dark spots on their leaves.
Also, the leaves can get spoiled if they get wet when watered and are left to dry out in the sunlight. For this reason, I suggest that you place your plants in a semi-shaded and ventilated area. This way you’ll grow beautiful flowers and leaves.
Neither can it withstand well excessive winds, especially during flowering season, as they cause the flower to dry out before opening. You can put some kind of cloak to protect the camellias from strong winds and direct sun, in case you don’t have a covered space.
Fertilization of camellias
In the recommendations, I’ve mentioned a little about the fertilizer that should be employed for this plant. However, it’s not superfluous to go a little deeper into the subject.
Right after planting your camellias, you can use a fertilizer low in nitrogen but rich in phosphorus and potassium. Then, during the growing season from March to September, you should fertilize once or twice a month with a fertilizer rich in nitrogen and low in potassium and phosphorus.
Potassium contributes to the development of flowers with vivid colors; phosphorus helps to strengthen the leaves and roots; and nitrogen favors the elongation of the stems and the green coloration of the leaves.
It’s important to avoid over-fertilizing, as this can lead to an accumulation of mineral salts in the soil, which camellias cannot tolerate. They can exhibit slow growth, very dark green foliage and root burn.
These plants don’t demand complicated watering habits. All you need is light and constant humidity, without puddles, because as you know this causes diseases and root problems.
Apply abundant water after planting, and in spring when the camellias emerge from their vegetative rest. When in bloom, it will be enough watering to maintain a level of humidity around the roots.
Too much or too little water can cause the camellias’ buds to never open so they cannot flower or develop properly.
At this point, you can also use liquid fertilizers and thus fulfill the water and fertilizer needs at the same time.
Remember to use room temperature water and avoid water that contains calcium, as this can cause a change in the pH of the soil that is unfavorable for the plants.
Mulching for camellias
Mulching works as an insulation against too cold or too hot temperatures, which can affect the roots, and helps to maintain the necessary moisture for these plants.
All you have to do is place a evenly distributed layer of a mixture of shredded bark, straw, leaf mulch or gravel on the soil. This mulch also works to prevent the growth of weeds that can steal nutrients from the camellias.
It’s often said that camellias shouldn’t be pruned, however, we promise that pruning is a very convenient action for shaping the plant and improving the development of stems and branches.
For young and outdoor plants pruning helps provide harmonious growth and eliminates dry, twisted and diseased stems.
When camellias are oversized pruning will help shape them, creating hedges or rows of bushes. For potted plants, pruning is carried out in order to encourage the uniform growth of the flower and the leaf buds.
Pruning is done in the period that follows the flowering of the plant.
Pests in camellias
Camellias can be affected by the appearance of diseases caused by fungi, flower rot, fungal diseases, root rot, etc. They can also be attacked by pests such as weevils, mealybugs, spider mites, viruses and pathophysiological pests.
The 5 most common species of camellias
Since you know all the aspects of the care and planting of these beautiful plants I’ll share with you the 5 most common species. I am sure you’ll like them.
Camellia Japonica or Japanese Camellia
It’s the most known species and features a great variety of shapes, colors and sizes of flowers and leaves. Originally, it was named the rose of Japan. It flowers from March to June and can reach a height of 10 to 12 meters.
Its leaves can have an elliptical or lanceolate shape, reaching a length of 5 to 10 cm and a width of 3 to 6 cm. In the picture, you can see one camellia subspecies called Fig. The shape of its flower is simple with a corolla of 5 to 9 wide, open and stretched petals.
Inside this flower, you can see the numerous erect central stamens which are surrounding the pistil. This species has about 5,000 varieties that are distinguished by the size of their flower (from miniature to giants), the color of the flowers and the shape of the leaves.
This species is found in the coniferous forests in China. It can reach heights of 10 to 15 cm and in its natural habit can have single flowers with pink petals, and elliptical leaves 8 to 11 cm long.
The species you see in the picture is called Camellia Reticulata Captain Rawes. It has a semi-double shape and its color ranges from pink to carmine-red. It flowers in spring, which is also when the old shoots begin to fall off.
This species originated in Japan, it can reach 5 meters in height and its flowering goes from October to March. Its flowers can be single or double and either white or pink. It has smaller and thinner leaves than Camellia Japonica.
This is a very aromatic species, its sweet and fruity scent comes from the essential oils found at the base of the flower petals. It also has many varieties and the one you see in the picture is called Plantation Pink: a pink flower, simple, and with a white gradient in the center.
Tea can be obtained from the leaves of this species, its flowers are white and bloom in winter: they are simple, pendulous and small. Besides, this species has a preference for temperate climates.
These plants are pruned so that they don’t exceed 2 meters in height in the tea cultivation fields. Its leaves are dark green, with serrated edges, 4 to 15 cm long and 2 to 5 cm wide.
The flowers of this species are simple and have 6 to 7 pink or white petals. It’s a plant mostly used to produce hybrids by crossing it with Camellia Japonica.
It’s a shrub that can grow about 3 meters and the flowers have yellow central stamens and white filaments.
One of the hybrids that grow from this species is called Camellia Grathamiana or also known as the white Christmas camellia, as it flowers at this time of the year.
So, we’ve come to the end of this blog about camellias. It was a journey full of very interesting information about this species of plants which I hope you enjoyed. It’s very important to learn something new every day and what better than learning and putting it into practice.Take the courage to have your own camellias and decorate your garden or balcony with wonderful and very colorful plants. I’m sure you won’t regret it. Let’s get to work!