Camellias for the Snowy North

Welcome to our weekly Plant Exchange. While here we are USDA Zone 4-5a, it doesn’t keep us from trying to grow out-of-zone plants to which we are partial. Camellias are an evergreen shrub in Zone 7-10 but can be grown in northern climates in containers.

They are in full bloom now indoors, just after the first snow and hard frost ends the outdoor flower season. Petals have a light, distinctive fragrance but pollen dispersal is not a problem.

Camellias are found in the deep south and as far north as North Carolina in well-drained acid soil in areas of partial sun such as an understory of pine trees or on the north side of a house.

More than 3,000 varieties of the common Camellia japonica exist today. Camellias came from eastern and southern Asia. Camellias are the state flower of Alabama. Andre Michaux, a gardener of King Louis XVI, established a botanical garden in 1786 north of Charleston and camellias, ginkgo, mimosa, and chinaberry trees were planted there.

Flowers are pink, white and red and variations of these, including double and single flowers. The shrub may reach six feet in height or may be pruned after flowering each year as a more compact plant. Here’s one close up.

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Camellias adapt well as container plants for northern climates. They establish well to outdoors under a shade tree in summer and transition to indoors in medium light in winter. Add sphagnum moss to potting soil for an acid, well-drained soil. These containers of camellias are blooming in mid November, a room full of flowers.

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Bloom season lasts more than two weeks and the shiny evergreen leaves add to winter décor indoors. In this climate and growing conditions, camellia varieties here in pots bloom mainly in November. In nature, varieties bloom December – April.

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Plants are easy care, with a weekly watering until the water drains from the pot, and a dilute acid azalea fertilizer yearly. Its leaves take in moisture, so consider rinsing them as you water outdoors or on occasion indoors. As with other plants, introduce changes slowly, such as transition to indoors.

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Camellias are prone to few pests. Camellia petal blight, in which blooms brown quickly and fall off can be remedied by scraping top couple of inches of soil and replacing it. Some bud drop is natural, but can be a sign of overwatering the plant. The shrub should last for years.

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