Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Plant of the Month November 2009-Camellias

From In the Garden

Do you all know how gardeners just have to have that one plant the 'experts' say they cannot grow? You know the one. It's usually hardy in one zone warmer or colder than yours. Or it is the plant that likes acid soil and you have only alkaline soil. Well for me it is the camellia. And the fact that camellias absolutely shine when they are in bloom or out of bloom coupled with their ease of care make them a favored plant of mine. In fact, I have chosen the camellia as my Plant of the Month for November. I think the bees agree don't you?

I lived in southern Alabama for a hot two years during my Army career. When I say hot, I mean hot. Really really hot and humid. I did not do much gardening there at all, but I did plant a a camellia. I had never seen camellias growing anywhere else I lived. They weren't in North Carolina, Maine or Germany (at least not in the areas I lived in). I had visions of seeing my camellia grow into a tall and handsome shrub while living in Alabama but I never did see that shrub grow because we had to move due to a new assignment. That's okay though because I figured I would at some point have another chance to grow camellias.
Once I moved into my current home I thought a camellia would be a nice plant to have here as well. Never mind I did not know they could not grow in my zone. The plants did not know they could not grow here and neither did my local big box stores. Nosirree. Lowes and Home Depot stocked camellias just like they stock oakleaf hydrangeas. Surely if they sell plants in my local big box stores then they must grow here? Right?I purchased my first camellia in a one gallon pot in 2002. I had no idea where I should put it but found a spot for it and in the ground it went. It grew and grew for about two years when I decided it needed to move 5 feet over. Big shock for the camellia yet it survived and even thrived and still it grew. Years went by and I became more involved in the garden circles and certain plant societies here in Middle Tennessee. I even attended a seminar by a local camellia expert that said camellias don't usually grow in northern Tennessee, but breeders are working on new ones that are more hardy (there's hope for you northern gardeners). Harumph I thought. Don't tell my little camellia it can't grow here. It was now over 10 feet tall and faithfully blooming each year. It has bloomed with snow on the ground, in frigid winds and hailstorms and has come through unscathed. It blooms in the sun and shade and lights up this side of my home.
In fact, the little camellia I first planted in 2003 has become a 12' tall camellia and invited several of its cousins and distant relatives to come here and live. I now have seven camellias growing happily in my garden. All of them are Camellia sasanquas with the exception of two; which are japonicas. I specifically seek out the sasanquas because my first camellia was and is a sasanqua. Besides its hardiness I just like saying the word sasanqua:) My first camellia is an unknown cultivar. I have the label that came with it but the label simply says 'camellia sasanqua'. It happens to be a camellia that blooms in the fall/winter time frame and is the one I am featuring in this post. There are many sasanquas that also bloom in the spring time as well. Oftentimes folks think camellias only bloom in the winter or spring or vice versa. They don't know about all the varieties that bloom at different times, and neither did I until I started adding more camellias to my garden. I currently have three camellias blooming. The other four will bloom in the spring and because all seven of my camellias are different cultivars they usually bloom at different times but sometimes overlap the bloom period. Needless to say I have camellias blooming here for a pretty long time. The one above is my most spectacular camellia because it is the biggest so it is usually the featured one on here. I have posted on the others as well though. Remember, one of my criteria for choosing a 'Plant of the Month' is that the plant must have more than one cultivar or variety that blooms easily and rewards the gardener because of its low care and spectacular bloom and growth habit. Camellias fit the bill when grown properly.

I wanted to share a few tips I have for growing camellias. I am no expert on growing camellias nor have I ever claimed to be an expert on anything I post on this blog. These tips are simply lessons learned through growing my camellias in different spots in my garden. They may not work for everyone but have worked well here. Remember, camellias are marginally hardy to my zone and are 'not supposed' to grow here. Here is the secret to successfully growing camellias in a cold zone-shhh-plant your camellias on the north side of something so as to protect them from the southern sun during the winter. What?? That doesn't make sense! It seems counter intuitive that you would plant camellias on the northern side of something (in my case my home and evergreen trees) because that area would be coldest. Yes! That is the point. Here is what happened when I planted a camellia in a protected southern exposure in my garden next to my deck. The sun shined on it during the winter and warmed up the leaves. Then the sun went down and the plant froze. The leaves turned brown and the plant began to decline right in front of me. I quickly moved the plant and it is doing fine now on the northern side of my deck. You do not want the plant to warm up and start its juices flowing only to be frozen at night. Therefore keeping a camellia on the northern side of a house ensures the sun never reaches the camellia and it will stay dormant-at least the above the ground part which is what counts in the winter.

More cultivation tips I have learned are that camellias appreciate a good mulch (I try to use pine needles I gather from the wild or from gardens but I also use oak leaves), they don't like to be disturbed, and the soil should be acidic (5.5-6) and contain a good amount of organic matter and be well drained. I do add a good acidic fertilizer in March to all of my camellias and hydrangeas as well. If you provide these conditions your camellias will reward you admirably each and every year and perhaps they'll be your plant of the month.

I hand prune my camellias lightly after bloom each year. I prefer the natural look so I mainly prune out errant branches. I have also limbed up a few camellias so that I can see the great structure of the trunks (note the picture of mine above); which are attractive in their own way. Camellias do seem to lend themselves to more formal pruning but why would you want to? The evergreen leaves themselves make this a shrub worth growing in the garden.

It is a clear winner and the most stunning specimen for November's Plant of the Month here at Tiger Gardens. Runners up were: Pineapple sage and mums.

What is your Plant of the Month for November?

in the garden....

33 comments:

  1. Ah Tina, you have proven the old saying to be true about certain plants don't know they aren't supposed to grow here, so don't tell them! HA We have only had luck with one sasanqua type, it does tickle the tongue, doesn't it?, Chansonette. The big box store is full of camellias, just like you say. Who is buying them? I bet there are no repeat buyers, but lots turned in for a refund because they died. Our plant of the month for November this year would have to be the Salvias, Ingigo Spires is the most floriferous, but many are still blooming their hearts out despite several freezes, light ones though.
    Frances

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  2. Wonderful post, Tina! I love camellias, but don't have any growing here. I wonder if they have compact varieties. Thank you for sharing the counter intuitive exposure approach. I never would have guessed!

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  3. Camellias are a sure winner in my book. At the Norfolk Botanical Garden there are so many many varieties it just boggles the mind. Yours in the photo is beautiful. We have plans to have some Camellias, just have to make a choice as to which one(s) to plant. Will have to give some thought to my plant of the month.

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  4. I had to laugh about stores carrying items that won't work in our zone! Oh how true!!!
    I love camellias. Our library have several growing and they are always so beautiful in the winter. I tried once, and it died. (This was at the old house) Then hubby brought home several that he had dug up from around a house that was being torn down. They were smaller ones. So I put them in a bigger pot thinking they would not make it, but they are growing!!!! So I have three of them. Now I need to transplant them, but I'll do that next year. I am anxious to see the colors too. I'm glad that you did a posting on them as that helps a lot.
    By the way I keep trying to add you and others to my blog list and that is not working too well. It works on and off, but I have read where other people are having the same problem. I'll get you on there yet!!
    Take Care!
    Ulrike

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  5. I need to add one to our garden somewhere! You must have the perfect microclimate for yours to thrive so well. Plant zones are simply a guideline many plants will work outside of it, thankfully! I have a penstemon that should have died last year. It didn't know any better and came back!

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  6. Frances, Gotta love those salvias. They are awesome all the time I think.

    Dawn, Thanks!

    Lzyjo, I think there are smaller varieties and some that grow slower. Not sure as I find identifying camellias difficult.

    Janet, it will be fun picking out a camellia. If I lived closer to the Camellia Farm in the Raliegh area I'd surely make a trip there when they are blooming. Or like you said, the botanical gardens so I could identify just the right one. There are so many choices.

    Ulrike, Lucky you to have some free camellias and to be surprised when they bloom! I think that is half the fun. They'll do well-just be sure they are in shade and a moist peaty area. Hopefully they'll bloom this year for you! I've read that they can bloom at a young age and small size.

    Dave, Yes indeed, the perfect microclimate is the north side of my house-I found out the hard way. It works well; a great thing. You are a bit warmer than me here I bet camellias would do well there too.

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  7. It certainly is a lovely plant. One of my biggest pet peeves is the fact that chain stores sell zone 7 plants in zones 6, 5, and 4 but it worked out perfectly in your case.
    Marnie

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  8. Love Camellias, they are all over our town. Mine are in the shade and pretty much like to be left alone. SLOW growers though, I have buds on mine, it will be a while before they bloom.

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  9. This is a beauty, Tina, and I can see why you've chosen it as your plant of the month. Great tips about planting on a northern exposure--this sounds the opposite of what I've read, but your explanation makes sense. Hmmm, wonder if a camellia would grow in my zone 5 garden??

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  10. Perfect choice for Plant of the Month! Your Camellia is so happy it does not know any better so we will keep mum on the fact it should not be so happy. hee hee...

    My white camellia is full of buds and starting to bloom really well now. I will show one soon. I like the white but when the cold stuff hits it a night, they turn an ugly yellow! Sigh, so far not enough cold to harm them this year so I have pretty white petals on the ground below the 4 bushes I have and yes, at the north end of the house which is front to greet visitors...

    My Mother in law had a beautiful one when they lived in Fairfax, VA. It was like 12 feet tall if not larger! Bloomed like mad and greeted us at the front door. The woman that purchased their house, cut it down! MIL was heartbroken but it was no longer her plant as it went with the house....

    I believe our 4 camellias would get as large but we must prune them back about twice a year. They are in the perfect spot for them to be happy but not such a perfect spot for us to let them go. If we let them go, they will grow above the front porch blocking the entire front of the house. They were also planted too close together so we moved them once and they jumped back to life after a bit of stress. Could not move them again as their roots are mingling with the J maple trees and we do not want to disturb them babies….

    I am happy to say I have seen your beautiful Camellia in its glory on my last visit to Tiger Gardens. What a treat indeed!!!

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  11. Congrats on your 7 camellias! The one growing beside your house is gorgeous.

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  12. This is my first time growing a camellia, and it seems to be doing very well. Not sure why I didn't try one sooner. I've been admiring them in other people's yards since we moved here. Your photo of the bee on the flower is quite spectacular, by the way. Thanks for the encouragement you sent! The app is in their hands now.

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  13. Oh dear. I'm getting a little depressed. So there are no hardy varieties for New Yorkers??! Grateful to have your blog to visit and see some color today. Things are getting grayer here by the minute.

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  14. You just proved a great point. Plants do not read the published material that states that they can only be grown in certain areas. I have seen plants flourish, where the experts say they should not. Your Camellia is beautiful!

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  15. I can see where it would be fun to say sasanqua. The spelling of it also reminds me of a type of Big Foot, which I find to be a fun myth or truth, depending on how one believes.

    They sure are pretty and your sure look healthy and happy as can be.

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  16. Whoops, I forgot but my plant of the month would have to be Cosmos as I have several with many blooms and some of them are as tall as I am. Not bad for nearly the middle of November in Maine!!! A few other blooms but not too many.

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  17. What a perfect choice! I wish I had space for one so I could have some fresh blooms now. I just have 2 japonicas. I'm going to have to think about my November plant of the month. Not much is happening in my garden that is new now.

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  18. Tina, I have a potted Camellia whose buds refused to open last year. But now that it's cooler, it'll be interesting to see whether I'll be rewarded with blooms. Despite the heat, our nurseries have a regular stock of Camellias. But I haven't seen any as beautiful as yours, in real life.

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  19. so lovely!
    I don't grow these, wish I could. But plant of the month here, that is going be such a tough decision, I have so much growing! Ha :)
    The only bloom out there right now is a viola. Yippy!

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  20. You know we have camellias everywhere here....it is our state flower! They are beautiful! A fellow gardener that lives near by has some that are over 40 feet tall! They are amazing. I had no idea they got that big...but they do!

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  21. I have just one...C jcovered with buds...It's planted in the GOBN...we'll see if her blooms survive the winter! it would be marvelous if she grew to 10 feet! Plant of The Month~~Guara...it has bloomed non stop and Pineapple Sage; once it began blooming...WOW! gail

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  22. Tina,

    Thanks for the tips and you have done well with growing camellias! We have 4 year in the ground japonicas with loads of blooms on them in the forest. And 3 new ones (2 are sasanquas)just posted on our site that we need to plant.

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  23. Plant breeders will be hard pressed to come up with a camellia that likes my zone 5, alkaline-soil garden. But how fun that yours are doing so well! My plant of November . . . I guess the hellebore leaves still look pretty. But that's about it!

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  24. Hello tina.

    Oh You have seven camellias! How wonderful! The shrub in the last photo is very handsome! Your pink flowers are so lovely! I like the pink flowers best although the ones in my garden are all red flowers. One of them should have been pink! In Kobe, I have other types, though. I like camellias because they remain in flower pretty a long time. Maybe from November to February(?) when flowers are scarce here. Thank you for sharing!

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  25. I would have to second your choice for POM. My hat is off to you and all the other zone pushers out there.

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  26. Hi Tina, I have a pink Camellia that has buds on it. Jan. is the month for it to bloom. It is so pretty.
    Your Camellia looks similar to mine.
    I got mine from Ga. All the others that I got at the same time died. I got all colors. Mine is planted under the canopy of the big oak tree. The gentleman said they like the acid from the leaves of oak. Semi-shade to.
    I can't pick a flower for the month as not much going on. Mums, Lantana's, Some zinnias.

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  27. Congratulations on your luck with the camellias. I find myself partial to the sansanquas as well, and my one camellia plant is the cultivar 'Cleopatra,' which is blooming right now. One unsung bonus feature is that sansanquas can be a great plant for a fairly dry garden. Mine has doubled in size in two years, and only gets water once or twice a month during the summer.

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  28. That first photo is incredible Tina. I love camellias. They would be on my short list of plants to have if they were hardy in my zone. I think that would really be stretching it to plant one in Colorado tho. I see them mainly sold as greenhouse specimens here. I'm glad you've had such good luck. They certainly appear to be healthy and happy.
    I wish I could think of a plant for November but everything has been brown for a month now. Maybe violas or pansies since sometimes they are still hardy enough to bloom?? Not nearly as exciting as your choices tho.

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  29. if your readers are looking for more information on USDA plant hardiness zones, there is a detailed, interactive USDA plant hardiness zone map at http://www.plantmaps.com/usda_hardiness_zone_map.php

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  30. Plant of the month for Maine in November? Oak trees: would you hurry up and drop your brown leaves before it snows!

    I love your camellias and that is a stunning image of pollination.

    I hope all goes well with Skeeter. You must be worried.

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  31. Chokeberry--its berries are stunning now, even though its leaves have fallen off. I'm one zone too cold for camellias and they aren't sold here... I first saw them in England and love them. Sigh.

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  32. I've never grown camellias. I didn't realize they got that big! I can't think of a plant of November here, but I have some that are continuing to want to bud and bloom.

    Your post reminded me of when I was in my 20s and into houseplants, I had a gardenia bloom, and then I read that they are hard to grow. I was pleased.

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