Introduction to Camellia Culture
(Even if you are not adding a camellia to your landscape, this information works for most shrubs and trees.) Richard Mims, our guest author this month, has been a camellia expert for over fifty years. He is an ACS accredited Camellia Flower Show judge; Past President of the Mid-Carolina Camellia Society; Editor of the Atlantic Coast Camellia Society Journal; Director– at–large, State Director, and Chairman of the Publication Committee for the American Camellia Society; and winner many times over of camellia flower shows. Read Richard’s tongue in cheek article, Conversation with Camellias at GardenSmart. com. - Anne K Moore
Growing camellias is a Southern Tradition as evidenced by the plantings seen on old estates and farms across the South. By taking a little care with the planting, a camellia can grow, blossom, and bring joy to multiple generations. Now, even some Northern gardens can blossom with camellia flowers since the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington D.C. has developed cold-hardy camellias. Not planting a camellia? This information works for most shrubs and trees.
DIGGING the HOLE: To guard against a plant settling in soft soil beneath it and growing too low in the ground, one should measure from the root ball or bottom of the container in which the camellia is growing, up to within 2 inches of the ground in which the camellia is planted.
Excavate a hole only as deep as the depth of the root ball or container, leaving the ground directly under the camellia compacted to assure roots will not settle too low in the ground. Being certain not to disturb the platform on which your camellia will rest, excavate a surrounding hole (visualize a donut with the center being the platform).
The donut should be two to three feet in diameter to assure your camellia tree will have a good soil mixture to feed it, until it is well established a couple years later. After the plant is put in the hole, lay a board across the hole to make sure that you are planting your camellia roots at least two inches above the existing soil line.
Humus is extremely important for camellia plant growth. With 2 parts of your native soil, add 2 parts humus in the form of pine bark, aged compost, composted leaves, aged sawdust, and/or the top inch of woodland soil under leaves and pine needles, if available. Try to use humus that is indigenous to your area. If soils are heavy, add 2 parts coarse sand. Never use sand from creeks and water ways because this sand contains fungi spores for every disease in the water shed. Use readily available mined sands.
It is very important to get camellia plants accustomed to your native soil by keeping a third to half of your planting mixture mixed with native soil. Holes dug in your soil and filled with an “alien” mixture of 1/3 of this 1/3 of that and 1/3 of whatever will tend to make all roots want to stay in that near-perfect mix for years. The roots tend to want to continue their potted circular growth in the new soil bed instead of venturing out into the native soil.
A camellia would thrive better atop your ground than planted even one inch too deep. The camellia is an above ground feeder. The feeder roots grow out near and on the very top of the earth. For this reason, MULCH is extremely important.
Coming next month, read CAMELLIA CULTURE Part 2 to learn the importance of pH, water, and why the correct type of mulch makes a difference.