It’s the Beginning of Camellia Time

I love Camellias.  I’d be happy if my entire yard was full of them.  But then, of course, there would be nothing in bloom from June to October.  Still, they give a lot of bang for the buck.  They are green the year ’round.  The flowers are the size of Rose blooms, single and double.  And they come in many shades of red, pink and white.

Here in the D.C. area, on the cusp of growing zones 6, 7 & 8, we are at about the Northern limit of what is known as ‘Camellia Country’.  This is changing for the better–The U.S. National Arboretum has been introducing some more cold-hardy hybrids that will supposedly live into zone 6 (I’ve been growing a hardier hybrid Fall-bloomer called ‘Winter Snow’–a white double–and I like it).  Most of the Camellias known and loved by several generations (since they were brought to Magnolia Plantation near Charleston, SC, a few hundred years ago) are only hardy to zones 7 and higher.

The Fall bloomers are just beginning to bloom here in the D.C. area.  These are the Sasanquas (Suh-SANK-wuh), Camellia sasanqua. My favorites, and the varieties I use all the time, are ‘Setsugekka’, a single white with a yellow center; and ‘Kanjiro’, with double blooms of bright pink.  They both bloom on the early end of the Fall-blooming Camellia season.

Camellia sasanqua 'Setsugekka'

Camellia sasanqua 'Setsugekka'

The Spring-blooming Camellias, Camellia japonica, can start blooming anytime after the new year, depending on the Winter.  Down South, they bloom the Winter through.  Here in the D.C. area, I begin to see them in March, usually.

Camellia japonica.  I think this one is 'Greensboro Red', though I can't swear to it.

Camellia japonica. I think this one is 'Greensboro Red', though I can't swear to it.

The earlier-blooming Japonicas can be burned by frosts or freezes (as can the later blooming Sasanquas).  For this reason, in the D.C. area, I like to plant early-flowering Sasanquas and late-flowering Japonicas.  The flowers on my Camellias rarely see the effects of the cold.

Camellias have shallow roots and don’t like to sit in an area that stays wet, so good drainage is a must.  Part-shade is perfect, out of the howling Northwest winds of Winter.  It is said that Sasanquas will tolerate more sun than Japonicas–I agree.  And they need space…they can get very tall and wide, depending on the variety (there are thousands, I’m guessing).  Spring is the best time to plant, so they have plenty of time to root before the next Winter.  If you insist on planting this Fall, get crackin’–the Fall planting window is about to close here in the Upper South/Mid-Atlantic.

Photos by the author.  If you copy, please link back.

Posted under The Fall Garden, The Spring Garden, The Winter Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on October 12, 2011

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