A Quick Guide to the Camellia Tree
A camellia tree is quite small, averaging around ten feet high, with the tallest growing to twenty feet. With over three thousand varieties of camellias, you are sure to find one whose flowers are just right for you. In warmer climates, these trees can flower throughout the winter, lending much needed color to the landscape. While a staple in southern gardens, don’t think that the camellia tree isn’t hardy enough to survive in somewhat colder northern reaches as well.
The camellia tree is native to Japan and China and was first discovered by Dr. Engelbert Kaempfer in the seventeen century. He was the doctor of the Dutch governor in Japan, and brought the camellia back to Europe, where it gained almost instant popularity. With shiny leaves and gorgeous blooms, camellias can have six different types of flowers: single, semi-double, formal double, rose-form double, anemone form, and peony form. Plus, there is a magnificent range of colors including white, pink, rose, red, maroon and mauve.
The camellia tree is a plant which thrives in the shade. They especially like to be the lower layer in a canopy of trees, such as a nice group of pines. You can prune the plants back to any size or form that you wish or you can just let them grow without constraint. Sometimes, they are trained to grow up against a wall, trellis or the side of a building. The warmer your locale (zone 9 and above), the more variations you will be able to find in cultivars. Most begin to flower in the fall and early winter.
The camellia tree likes soil that is well-drained and acidic. The biggest mistakes people make when growing camellias is that they over-water and over-fertilize. A pH of 6 is just about right for this plant. They like pine bark mulch mixed with sand. Use a timed-release fertilizer which will be spread out over six months of growth. And, never water so much that the roots are continually wet. You can use a nice organic compost when initially preparing the soil.
Camellias make great hedges and if that is your desire, you should plant them around six feet apart, more if you just want to showcase individual specimens. You should leave the plant so that the root bottom is just a hair above ground, enough to see a few of the roots. That’s because in order to be healthy, a camellia tree needs air to circulate to the roots. Some people put a rock underneath the roots to support them.
If you want to have a bushy camellia with lots of flowers, the key is to prune the tips regularly. You don’t even need pruning shears to do this. Just take your thumb and first finger and pinch off the tips after each spurt of growth. Aside from that, you really only need to prune this tree each year after all the flowers are past. Don’t worry about hurting the plant by over-pruning. You can cut one of these tree-shrubs back dramatically and it will still come back strong every time. You might have to wait a year after a thorough pruning before you have abundant flowers.
There are very few diseases that affect a camellia tree other than a few fungi, but it has lots of hungry pests. The worst of these are scales which have their own hard protective coating to protect themselves from your attempts to get rid of them. Of these hardened scales, they can have Greedy, Oystershell and Oleander scales. Plus, green, black and brown soft scales can also be a problem. Try scraping these insects and eggs off the plant, and pruning off and destroying any heavily affected branches. If that is unsuccessful, you can try pesticides but very few will penetrate the shell of these scales. If possible, take a sample to your country agricultural extension agent, and see what see what he or she advises for pests in your area.