Camellias: The flowers that bloom before spring

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

The Camellia Japonica is the state flower of Alabama and a favorite among local gardeners, who consider this beautiful, early blossoming shrub a “must” in their yards. Some varieties bloom at Christmas and are used in attractive arrangements with holly and the red berries of nandinas. Camellias are also popular as specimen plants, in shrub borders and in foundation plantings.

A broad-leafed evergreen, it grows well in deep, rich soil filled with somewhat acid humus. They thrive in a combination of garden loam, leaf mold, peat moss and well-rotted cow manure.

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A new camellia should be planted between October and March 1, retaining the balls as they come from the nursery, and it should be set higher than originally planted since it will settle. Too deep planting suffocates the roots.

And during the hot summer months – July through September – they require thorough and frequent watering.

Camellias should be fed with azalea-camellia food of 0-12-12 or 0-14-14 analysis after blooming. A second feeding is needed in mid-summer.

To prevent scale and mites, spray camellias the first of April and last of September, using a spray recommended by a nurseryman. And the only pruning necessary for this plant, which may reach tree size, is done just after blooming season. Cutting for decoration often achieves this. Be sure to cut with a slanting cut not farther than two eyes on the last cycle of growth.

Young camellia plants should not be pruned.

Varieties are many.

Early bloomers include Debutante, Brilliant, Amabilis; mid-season, Pink Perfection, Rose Dawn, Professor Sargent and Lindsay Neill, Gov. Mouton, Chandlere Elegans and Victor Emmanuel are among the most highly favored.

Pictured today are three Chandlere Elegans, one of the many varieties planted by my father, Ralph Russell Thompson, at least a half-century ago. Although some bushes are indeed tree-size, they remain as beautiful as they were at first blooming.