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GardenSMART :: Best Ways to Use Camellias

Best Ways to Use Camellias

By Kate Karam, Monrovia
Photographs courtesy of Monrovia

Available in a remarkable range of colors, forms, and sizes, camellias bloom in hues from white or pink to deep red. Some flowers are as simple as a wild rose while others are as full blown as a peony. While you’ll grow them for the flowers, the dark, glossy evergreen leaves look great year round.

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The two most commonly grown kinds of camellia are sasanquas and japonicas. Sasanquas, which have an open, airy structure with smaller flowers and leaves, can handle more sun than the japonicas and tend to bloom earlier. Japonicas, which are larger in overall size, with bigger leaves and flowers, thrive in shade and tend to bloom later in the season. While they’re generally hardy in zones 7-10, there are a few varieties that thrive in zone 6. For much more about how to grow camellias, read here.  Crave a few ideas for how to use camellia flowers in pretty arrangements? Four good ones here.

From groundcovers to small trees, camellias can fill many corners of the garden with long-lasting blooms. Here are three ways we love to use them (more ideas? Here!)

Romantic Hedges and Screens

While few camellias are “fast growers,” (they typically reach six to 12 feet tall and wide in about 10 to 15 years), the sasanqua varieties and some of the hybrids do grow more quickly than the japonicas. But, the flowers of the japonicas are longer lasting, so it’s a bit of a tradeoff. Your best way to decide which to plant as a hedge is to figure out conditions in summer and choose accordingly as sasanqua varieties can tolerate some sun. One tip?  Purchase at least one extra plant for every twenty or so in your hedge and plant it elsewhere in the garden. If something goes wrong with one of the plants in your hedge, you’ll have a same-age replacement to slot in. Here’s an elegant camellia that’s perfect for a hedge:

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Nuccio’s Gem Camellia
Zone: 8 – 10
Sparkling white, formal, double blooms contrast well with the glossy, dark green foliage. Reaches up to 8 ft. tall and wide. Filtered sun. Midseason.

Shady Understory Solution

While most of the more famous camellia varieties tend to be on the taller side (averaging about 8 ft. tall when mature, though very old specimens can top out at 20 ft.), there are plenty that stay smaller and more compact. These varieties are ideal for planting under the canopy of tall, open trees where water and soil conditions are compatible; tall, deep-rooted pine trees are ideal. As their roots are shallow, avoid planting them under shallow-rooted shade trees such as birch and maple. These are also a good solution to what to plant along a foundation on the shady side of the house. This one’s both beautiful and a reliable bloomer:

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Fairy Blush Camellia
Zone: 7 – 10
Deep pink buds open to reveal dainty, single, apple-blossom-colored blooms. Reaches up to 4 ft. tall and wide. Filtered sun.  Mid-to-late season bloom.

Flat-Out Elegant Espalier

Where space is limited (or you just want a show stopping effect) camellias can be trained to grow against a flat surface such as a wall. While you can train most camellias (or buy them that way…check with your local garden center for availability), sasanqua varieties, with their open, arching growth are a good choice. Here are three varieties that are ideal. Espaliers need work, especially over the growing season, but if you like to prune and shape plants, they’re right up your alley. It may take some time, but the end result is so worth it. Good tutorial here. There are many to choose from, but we love the dramatic color of this one:

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Coral Delight Camellia
Zone: 8 – 10
Deep, coral pink, semi-double blooms with yellow stamens are backed by lustrous foliage. Reaches up to 8 ft. tall and wide. Filtered sun. Midseason.

Best Bloom Sequence

Camellias are categorized by bloom times. Sasanquas (Camellia sasanqua) bloom early to mid-season, Japonicas (Camellia japonica) from mid-to-late season, and hybrids can be either. Plant a variety for blooms from November through June. (Blooming periods can vary for warmer or cooler locations.)

Early: October to December
Midseason:  January to March
Late:  April to May

Find many more “gotta have it” camellias for solving problems and creating long-lasting beauty at While you’re there, be sure to sign up for our award-winning monthly newsletter, Plant Savvy.


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