Camellias are easy to grow if you follow a few “rules.” Here are some that I gathered from camellia experts and my father and mother who had several camellias in their East Bay Area garden.
Camellias like shady afternoons, so don’t plant them in full sun. Mine are next to the house, where they get morning sun and shade after noontime. They don’t grow in a western exposure. One bush that gets some afternoon sun has finally acclimatized, but it took a few years and my “threats” for it to please bloom.
Keep their feet clean. To prevent petal blight, pick up blooms, petals and leaves under the shrubs daily or at least every other day. Look at it as good exercise.
Trim or twist off blooms that are bruised.
Spread peat moss or mulch on the ground under the bushes, no closer than eight inches or more from the trunk.
Fertilize with camellia, azalea and rhododendron fertilizer. You should follow package directions, but I admit that I don’t and my camellias are doing very well.
If leaves are yellowing, apply Ironite according to package directions.
Prune cross branches but watch for new growth and buds on the ends. You don’t want to whack off future blooms. Some say it’s OK to top off high branches, but I’m more cautious and only cut three single, high branches a year. Cut higher stems to force blooms and leaves on lower branches. Prune so that you can see through the bushes. I prune stems and branches as I gather camellias for flower arrangements.
When twisting off blooms for floral arrangements, don’t touch the petals. They bruise easily.
In the house, float camellias in shallow bowls, compotes or containers like glass pie pans. If you cut stems for an arrangement, stick them into oasis or vases with narrow openings. Don’t be surprised when blooms fall off in a day or so although some varieties have blooms that stay on their stems longer.
I have nine different varieties of Japonicas and two Sasanquas (not good for house arrangements, but have pretty blooms). One Japonica (Laurel Leaf) blooms from before Thanksgiving to mid-March. (This season it started blooming on Halloween 2016).
Others (such as Pope Pius IX) start in December and bloom through March and April. One (Pearl Maxwell) blooms from March to mid-May.
Camellias like the rain and the cold which is why I think they bloom so prolifically and beautifully. I always look forward to this time of year in the garden.