At the coolest and quietest time of year in the garden, the winter-flowering japonica camellia can brighten your home with its gorgeous, yet stately blooms. They’re long-lived, too, so planting one today can bring a lifetime of lovely winters.
The right pH
Camellias are famous for being ‘acid-loving’ plants, which means they dislike soils with a pH higher than 7. In most parts of Australia however, soils tend to be naturally acidic, which means correcting the soil is not usually necessary. (Exceptions would be gardens in Adelaide or Perth, which have naturally alkaline soils. In these regions, it can be simplest to grow camellias in pots.) Using Searles Flourish Azalea, Camellia & Gardenia at the recommended rate will help maintain the ideal level of soil acidity for camellias, as well as providing all the nutrients needed for excellent growth, vigour and flowering.
A sheltered position in dappled shade is ideal for most winter-flowering camellias. Taller trees with light canopies like eucalypts can provide the perfect type of broken shade that they love. In hotter and drier climates, a camellia is likely to need deeper shade; but don’t panic if conditions are not perfect. Camellias are basically a tough plant once established and if the soil and drainage is good, they can be very forgiving.
Preparing the soil
Camellias need excellent drainage, so if your soil is heavy clay, build up soil in mounds with plenty of 5IN1™ Organic Plant Food or Searles Azalea, Camellia & Gardenia Mix. Always mulch well after planting and reapply mulch once or twice every year. Camellias are also excellent for growing in pots. Use pots at least 40cm wide and fill with Searles Azalea, Camellia & Gardenia Mix.
There are thousands of japonica camellias in existence so the toughest challenge will be choosing your favourite. Their blooms can be large and flamboyant and available in a wide variety of forms and colours, including every shade of pink, white, true red and variegated forms. Reputable garden centres will only stock varieties that grow well in your area, so the easiest way to select the perfect camellia may be to pay your local garden centre a visit. The best time to select a japonica is in winter, when they are in flower. This can help with colour selection but also gives you the reassurance that you have a healthy specimen that flowers well.
Mulching is one of the secrets to growing beautiful camellias. A good mulch will help stop the soil from drying out, keep the roots cool in summer and will eventually break down to improve the structure of the soil. Lucerne, sugar cane mulch and Searles Mulch Plus are all excellent mulches. Water well before mulching and lay mulch up to 12cm thick, keeping it clear of the trunk.
Camellias need plenty of water during their first few years, but once established are quite drought tolerant. Immediately after planting, water them every day for about a month. After that, water once a week. During the second year, camellias should only need watering once a week in spring and summer and once a month in autumn and winter. After five years they should be able to fend for themselves. Water requirements will vary with light conditions, climate, soil quality and mulching, so keep an eye on the soil and learn to judge when watering is needed.
Japonica camellias are usually a large shrub which can reach about 5m in height. However, there are many different varieties with different growth habits. Because japonicas are slow growing, they are easy to keep compact with occasional pruning. Their slow growth can also mean that if you’re a little impatient it could be a good investment to choose a more advanced specimen over a small seedling. Even though camellias will flower in their first year, they need to reach a certain size before they look truly grand when in flower!
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