Spring Lawn Care
25 February 2009
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Charlottesville/Albemarle County Office
460 Stagecoach Road, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
phone: 434.872.4580 fax: 434.872.4578
After visiting the Norfolk Botanical Garden two weeks ago I was thinking how nice it must be to have mild enough temperatures to grow camellias without fear of frost damage or a late snow like we had last week. Camellias are among the finest shrubs for southeastern Virginia where mild winter temperatures prevail. In February you can find many of them in full bloom in Norfolk.
The common Japanese camellia, Camellia japonica, is the most widely planted species. Over 2000 varieties are available that have originated as a result of sports, seedlings, and hybrids. The plants are moderately hardy (hardy in Zones 7 to 9) and may be seriously damaged when the temperature drops lower than 10 degrees above zero. Some hardy varieties, such as 'Lady Clare' (dark pink) and 'White Empress' (white), are available that may be grown in the cooler central and western parts of the state.
The camellia is an evergreen shrub that may grow to a height of 25 feet. The lustrous, dark-green, leathery leaves are 4 inches long, making the camellia a fine landscape plant even when not in bloom.
The flowers, which range in color from white to pink and red, are from 3 to 5 inches in diameter. They are borne on different varieties from September until April. In cool localities, the selection should be confined to varieties that bloom from September to November and in March and April. The flowers may be single, semi-double, or double.
Camellia sasanqua is considered less dependable than the Camellia japonica in the cooler sections of Virginia (also hardy in Zones 7 to 9). This evergreen shrub is more loose and open than the common camellia. It has leaves about 2 inches long, and plants grow to a height of 20 feet. Sasanqua camellias bloom only from late October through December. The flowers are mostly white and single and are 2 to 3 inches in diameter.
In our Zone 7 areas it is important to choose a protected site such as against a wall or in a protected yard. Also be sure to select cultivars based on cold hardiness if you want them to survive. Camellias are among the best shrubs for planting in partially shaded locations, especially under tall pines. Select a well-drained, sandy loam soil, with a slightly acid pH of 5.5 to 6.0. Space plants at least 6 feet apart to allow the shrubs to develop their natural form.
Soil moisture should be conserved by using a mulch of peat moss, pine needles, or bark or wood chips. Apply additional water during periods of dry weather to promote vigorous growth.
Light applications of a 10-10-10 fertilizer may be used to maintain dark-green, attractive foliage. Do not use more than one cupful per plant in early spring when growth starts.
Camellias grow very slowly. They require very little pruning except for the removal of damaged branches and long shoots that detract from the attractive form of the shrubs. The pruning should be done in early spring after the coldest winter weather is past and the blooming season is completed.
For more information about this and other landscape topics contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office. The local Virginia Cooperative Extension office numbers are Albemarle 872-4580, Fluvanna 591-1950, Greene 985-5236, Louisa 540-967-3422, and Nelson 263-4035.