Camellias love our acidic soil

Camellias love our acidic soil

As you drive around town right about now, have you seen the small trees that dot the community with huge blooms of pinks and whites? It is the camellia. And we are lucky to live in a part of the world where we can grow them easily.

This is the perfect time to find a lovely blooming camellia bush or small tree and bring it home with you. The local nurseries have them right now and you can pick your favorite color. You can decide the precise color, shape and size of the flowers.

They are blooming now, but not in active growth. Nothing makes me think of spring in the south like these big rose-like flowers that are blooming when not much else is. Even without the blooms, their evergreen foliage is a beautiful addition to your yard. The leaves are oval, pointed, glossy and darkest green.

The camellia was found long ago growing wildly in the Chinese, Japanese and South Korean countryside. The first camellias to be cultivated about 5,000 years ago were “tea plants” or plants used to make tea. Even today you can find camellia tea in Chinese grocery stores.

Thousands of years ago, gardeners selected the most beautiful of the wild camellia that they would find. They crossed camellia with camellia to produce the best of all camellias. Years later as word spread of the camellia, English gardeners paid high prices for this “exotic” greenhouse gem. When gardeners began to realize that they could grow their highly prized camellias outdoors, their popularity soared and the plant spread to Europe and beyond.

Your choice of what you want in a camellia depends on what charms you. Camellia japonica is the most well-known of the camellia species. (It is the one commonly called “camellia.”) You can find them with pure white flowers, dark burgundy, light pink, medium and dark rosy pink. Look for variegated options with white, red or pink streaks in the each flower. The form of the bloom itself can be single to peony-like or even a double. The flowers range from two inches to 6-7 inches in diameter.

Camellia sasanqua is another popular species. Sasanquas are usually really bushy when they are young. They will grow up to be beautiful small trees of 10-15 feet in height. They also have the dark, lustrous foliage. The sasanqua blooms are not quite as large as the camellia japonica, but their blooms give off a spicy fragrance. If your space requires a dwarf planting of a lovely camellia, look for the dark-pink blooming Shishi and light-pink blooming Showa low-growers.

For success in sharing your outdoor space with camellias, simple guidelines. They will tolerate full sun, but they will not like you for it. Their best performance depends on part sun to part shade. Just like your great aunt, they would like a spot with morning sun and dappled afternoon sun to spend their time.

You most likely will not get many blooms from your new beauties for the first few years. The buds usually won’t open well as the plant is getting established. They will not grow if the drainage is poor. Adding compost or pine bark at planting gives a healthy, organic start for the plant.

Camellias love our acidic soil. Plant them with the upper surface of the root ball slightly above the soil level. Mulch well and feed the camellias in the spring. The new growth begins in March and early April. If you have camellias already, they would appreciate new mulch and fertilization right about now with fertilizer labeled for acid-loving plants. Water them as we hit a dry spell.

If you would like details about growing the camellia, visit This international organization gives great tips on growing these wildly popular plants.


Joette Reger is an avid gardener and prides  herself on staying up-to-date on the latest gardening activities and tips. She can be reached by e-mail at joreger [at] msn [dot] com and on Facebook at “Gardengate with Joette Reger.”