Winter isn’t usually known for beautiful shrubs and hedges outside of evergreens. Some of the flowering varieties don’t provide people with blooms until the spring! Most people instantly think about large evergreen trees like pines and spruces when they want something to provide their yard with winter color. However, Camellias are an often overlooked evergreen shrub that blooms during the winter. Providing homes with white, pink, and red blooms all season long! Let’s talk about the history, types, care and more!
Camellias in history
Camellias originated in Asia, in many countries including China, Japan, Indonesia, and more. There are hundreds of varieties and hybrids; some are grown to make tea and others are for ornamental purposes. The thick, glossy leaves and beautiful large blooms some reaching 4 inches wide are often desired in gardens for their beauty. Camellias were grown and developed for centuries before they made it to Europe.
Europeans most likely first heard about Camellias in writings by Engelbert Kaempfer, a German botanist who described Camellias as a Japanese rose that grew wonderfully in rows as hedges, and in the wild. Only the best varieties were chosen to be in gardens. Camellias were also seen on Chinese wall paper paintings and often depicted in porcelain pots.
Lord Petre was the first gardener to have Camellias bloom in England. He had single red and single white varieties that hit the market for commerce in 1739. In 1797 Camellias were taken to America to attract people to the Elysian Fields in New Jersey. Varieties were quickly developed and grown in nurseries soon after.
In the 1800’s the British East India Company opened the way for more Camellia varieties to be imported. More white, red, and even pale pink Camellias. These flowers were growing in popularity extremely quickly. The blooms were even fashionable and used as a symbol by Coco Chanel. Camellias are also Alabama’s state flower, a NCAA college football bowl – the Camellia Bowl, and the shrubs are referenced in “To Kill a Mocking Bird.”
With Camellias being a popular choice in many gardens, referenced in many cultures for centuries, and with hundreds of different varieties and cultivars; how do people know which ones to place in their gardens? We’ve put together a list of the best Camellia options for you!
Top Camellia Varieties
Before we tell you about these Camellia varieties it’s important to know that there are two popular cultivars with noticeable differences, the Sasanqua and Japonica. Sasanquas generally have smaller blooms and leaves. Their leaves tend to be about 2 inches long and their blooms are usually 2 to 4 inches in diameter. Sasanqua blooms are often single blooms that are white and pink. Sasanquas also range in height from 2 to 12 feet tall.
Japonica Camellias can grow between 6 to 25 feet tall and have larger blooms and leaves. Japonica leaves are usually about 4 inches wide, and the blooms are about 5 inches wide. A major difference between Sasanqua and Japonica varieties is that Japonicas tend to have double blooms.
Double blooms means the blossoms have extra petals and have a fuller look, similar to carnations and Double Knockout Roses. Also, Japonicas are more cold hardy and offer a lot of different colorful blooms, ranging from shades of whites, reds, and pinks.
The Yuletide Camellia is a Sasanqua variety that offers bright and cheery red blooms all winter. Its single blossoms emerge in September and last through January. They’ll greet your holiday guests with their warm colors that stand out against the barren winter landscape. Yuletide Camellias can grow about 8 to 10 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. For a hedge they should be planted about 5 feet apart. This Camellia is recommended for growing zones 7 – 9 and is one of the more drought tolerant varieties.
Debutante Camellias are a Japonica variety that will fill your landscape with large pale pink blooms. The double blooms grow to about four inches! The blooms start to appear towards the end of winter for a fresh, spring clean feel that lets you know all of your other beloved plants are about to emerge from dormancy. This Camellia is an excellent option for a privacy hedge. They’ll grow to about 15 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Plant them about 5 feet apart and they’ll grow together to form a dense privacy screen to block out your neighbors. Debutante Camellias are recommended for growing zones 7 through 9 and will provide you with fragrant blooms for years.
April Snow Camellia
April Snow Camellias are a Japonica Variety with pure ‘snow’ white blooms. The white blooms start to show up towards the end of winter and last long into the spring. The large double blooms stand out against the dark green glossy Camellia leaves and have a sweet scent to fill your yard. This is a smaller Camellia that grows 6 to 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide. It will make a beautiful hedge, or look great on its own as a focal point in your garden. The April Snow Camellia is cold hardier than the rest and is recommended for growing zones 6 – 9.
Cold Hardy Tea Plant
You may not think of tea when you think of the classic and charming blooms that Camellias provide, but the Cold Hardy Tea Plant or Camellia Sinensis is one of the many Camellia tea varieties. It you love tea then this shrub is a must! The leaves can be used for white, black, and green tea. It also has smaller single white blooms.
Plus, this is one easy plant to grow. Cold Hardy Tea Plants easily reach heights between 10 to 15 feet tall and grow 10 to 15 feet wide. However, they can be kept smaller in a container as an indoor plant. Also, the Cold Hardy Tea Plant makes for a beautiful flowering hedge! It’s recommended growing zones are 6 – 11.
How to Plant, Maintenance, and Care.
Camellias are very low maintenance shrubs that are easy to care for. They can be planted at almost any time during the year, but the best time to plant them is in the early spring or fall. Once you receive yours, scout out your planting location and dig a hole that’s just as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. Remove any debris like grass or rocks and break up any dirt clumps. Place your Camellia in the hole, and make sure that the root collar is level with the ground. Then back fill your hole and give your Camellia a long drink of water.
Camellias enjoy full to partial sunlight and benefit from partial shade, especially afternoon shade. They will adapt to your natural soil even if it’s sandy or heavy in clay as long as it’s well draining. However, they prefer slightly acidic soil. Soil that has a pH ranging from 5 to 6.5 is best. You can use a pH meter to test your soil, and add peat moss to make it more acidic.
Water your camellias every one to two weeks based on your weather. Increase the amount of water you give them during times of drought. Most Camellias have moderate water requirements, and some are more drought tolerant than others. If you’re unsure about the watering needs of your specific Camellia feel free to ask us!
Fertilize your Camellias in the early spring and early fall to give your blooms a boost. Camellias prefer acidic fertilizer for acidic loving shrubs like Hydrangeas.
Join The Camellia Club
Camellias are a classic flowering shrub that have been used for centuries as hedges and ornamental shrubs. Their blooms are rich in many cultures around the world for their unique beauty and winter blooms. Use them to brighten up your winter, make a privacy hedge, or to even grow your own tea!