|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....