How to grow camellias
Camellia are easy to grow, glossy evergreens. They are ideal for containers. Their showy flowers come in whites, pinks and reds and appear early in the season; a time when not much else is flowering.
- Evergreen shrub
- Camellia sasanqua flower during late autumn, through winter. Camellia japonica and Camellia × willamsii flower from early spring
- Plant in autumn or spring
- Thrives in part shade. Camellia sasanqua will thrive in full sun once the roots have established
- An ericaceous plant, so requires an acid soil
- Prune after flowering if needed
- Keep well-watered through the summer – this is when the plants produce next year’s flower buds
- Feed in spring with an ericaceous fertiliser
- Grows well in containers
All you need to know
Camellias are evergreen shrubs that come in a range of sizes. There are two groups which flower at different times so, when choosing one, consider when you'd like the flowers to appear:
- Camellia sasanqua cultivars flower in autumn and winter
- Camellia japonica and Camellia × williamsii cultivars flower in late winter and early spring
There are also several different flower forms (single, semi-double, anemone, peony, rose and formal double) so choose your favourite form. All camellias have really flamboyant flowers. For more on the different flower shapes see this useful guide to camellia flower forms.
- Plants are widely available from the autumn until late spring
- Camellias are usually available in a 3-4 litre pot from garden centres and mail order suppliers
- Camellias are shrubs sold when typically 60-90cm (2-3ft) tall
- To find camellias that are available to buy near you, or to find a specific plant, use RHS Find a Plant
When to plant
Camellias are best planted in autumn while the soil is still warm to encourage the roots to establish before winter sets in.
Where to plant
- Most cultivars prefer partial or dappled shade, but Camellia sasanqua will tolerate sunnier positions
- Camellias thrive in an acid soil. If you can grow rhododendrons then you've got the right soil for camellias
- You can also grow camellias in containers in an ericaceous peat-free compost. This is best option if you garden on an alkaline soil like chalk
- Plant camellias in a sheltered position, away from cold winds and early morning sun
How to plant
- Allow a space of at least 3-5m (10-15ft) per plant. When fully grown they will be medium to large plants
- Camellias are generally hardy (RHS hardiness rating H5), but Camellia sasanqua is slightly more tender (H4) and may need winter protection in particularly cold winters or in freezing winds
- Prepare the area by first removing any weeds if necessary and digging over the area for planting
Water your camellias regularly when they are newly planted (the first 18 months) and water through the summer months as this is when the flowers are produced. Aim to keep the soil moist and check it with trowel about 10cm (4in) down – if it feels dry at this level, water well.
Avoid prolonged spells of watering with tap water if you live in a hard water area. Rainwater from a waterbutt is preferable.
Feed your camellias in early spring with an ericaceous fertiliser, such as Miracle-Gro Azalea, Camellia and Rhododendron Soluble Plant Food or Chempak Ericaceous Food. Follow the dilution rates on the packet. Excessive and late-summer feeding can also lead to bud drop – do not feed camellias later than the end of July.
Deadhead your camellias when the flowers begin to fade. This keeps the plant looking fresh as spent flowers will turn brown and can look unsightly. However, it doesn't significantly improve the flowering for the next spring, so it's something you can do if you have time.
If you are growing Camellia sasanqua in a container this will need some winter protection in most parts of the UK. Likewise, if you are growing Camellia japonica and Camellia × willamsii cultivars in Scotland or northern England, they may need protection. Move the container nearer to the house or to a sheltered corner. Wrap camellias with horticultural fleece. Alternatively, move potted camellias into cold a greenhouse or cool conservatories in spells of freezing weather.
Camellias do not need to be pruned regularly but, if they outgrow the allotted space, you can trim them into shape after flowering. Hard pruning is best carried out in March, but it will be a couple of years or more before they flower well again.
Growing from seed is also an option, but seedlings will not usually come true to parent type. The flowers will have been cross pollinated and this may produce a different colour or flower shape.
Take semi-ripe cuttings from mid to late summer; they often root better if slightly wounded by taking a 1.5cm (⅝in) strip of bark off the base of the cutting and dipping the base in rooting compound.
Take hardwood cuttings in the same way as semi-ripe cuttings, but between autumn and late winter. They can root in just three months.
Despite being easy to grow, camellias are occasionally subject to problems. Not watering through the summer months causes bud and flower drop the next winter/spring. Other things you might see include:
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