Camellias: A Winter Star

by Peter B.


The best remedy to a cold dark winter is the promise of late winter/early spring’s first blooms. No other flowering shrub quite does that with such panache as the genus Camellia. With its double, single, semi-double, peony flowered, anemone flowered, rose form double or formal double flowers, who cares that there may still be snow on the ground when they bloom!   


Camellia japonica is the common bloomer we see in the beginning of the year. There are countless varieties in shades of pink, red, white and even lavender and yellow! They tend to bloom from February to May depending on the variety and siting in the garden. C. sasanqua is the fall blooming species that will emerge in flower starting in September. There are also multiple hybrids that include the above mentioned species in their lineage. Pick varieties that are hardy to Maryland and bloom at the time you want.

A fun Camellia to try is the C. sinensis. Green and black tea can be derived from its leaves. The variety ‘Small Leaf Tea’ tends to be hardy to Zone 6.

When siting Camellias in your yard keep them in protected locations that are partially shaded. Many can reach heights of 6-8’ or more. Plan for a medium growth rate on most plants. They like an acidic, humus enriched soil with good drainage, so plant them high. Anywhere you may consider a rhododendron, you could consider a camellia. Fertilize with an organic acidic fertilizer twice a year and water during drought. Minimal pruning is needed as a natural form is prefered. Watch for aphids, mites and scale as these are its most serious pests. Oil sprays can help manage these problems.

I like to combine C. japonica with other early blooming plants like snowdrops and hellebores.

We carry lots of varieties in the spring such as C. ‘Lemon Glow’, a double soft yellow, C. ‘Candy Apple’ a peony style dark red and C. ‘Victory White’ a vigorous, bushy form. We encourage you to try growing this lovely evergreen.