For those in warmer climates like the South and Pacific Northwest, camellias are a familiar sight growing in gardens. These plants are prized for their winter beauty when so much of the garden is colorless.
The evergreen foliage and bright, cheerful flowers are welcome in an otherwise drab time of year. This is why we sometimes call them the rose of winter. Camellias are also prolific bloomers that suffer from a misconception that they are hard to grow.
If you want to see just how easy camellias are, let’s get into growing and caring for this wonderful plant.
What Are Camellias?
Camellias are related to other tea plants in the Theaceae family. They’re native to east and south Asia including Japan and Indonesia. These plants are used to create tea, particularly Camellia sinensis species.
There are around 220 varieties, as well as over 3000 hybrids, all of which are evergreen shrubs, or small trees.
Camellias were grown and admired in Japan and China many years before they appeared in European countries, thought to have spread around the world thanks to the tea trade.
10 of The Best Camellia Options
There are so many different species, cultivars, and hybrids of camellias, but here are a few stars you may want to consider. The majority of species available for the home gardener are C. sasanqua or C. japonica.
C. sasanqua plants normally bloom around October to December. They like the sun and produce large flowers. These are fairly cold-tolerant, generally thriving in USDA Hardiness Zones 7-9.
C. japonica blooms from January to March. They prefer more warmth and a little shade. These grow best in Zones 7-10.
‘Debutante’ is a perfect choice if you want a bright color for as long as possible in the winter garden. This one has a long blooming time from October to May. It is good for Zones 7-10. In Zone 7, you’ll need to provide winter protection.
In Zones 8 to 10, no protection is necessary.
With this japonica cultivar, you will get beautiful light and deep pink blooms on deep green foliage up to 12 feet tall.
2. High Fragrance
It’s no secret that camellia blossoms don’t have a flowery fragrance. But ‘High Fragrance’ was developed to have deep pink flowers that remind people of roses and jasmine.
At a compact four to six feet tall, this hybrid is a perfect choice for small areas. Hardy in Zones 7 to 10, ‘High Fragrance’ blooms late winter to early spring.
3. Kramer’s Supreme
When the winter garden is dull, ‘Kramer’s Supreme’ is a welcome distraction with bright red blooms from November to at least March.
Best suited for Zones 8 to 10, this japonica cultivar will grow to about six to eight feet tall with a rounded habit.
4. April Dawn
For those who like a massive burst of blossoms and color, ‘April Dawn’ is for you. Lovely white flowers with accents of deep pink, give you a giant wall of candyfloss-colored blooms. This evergreen show-off grows up to eight feet tall with blooms around four inches across.
The colorful display starts in late winter and continues until late spring.
‘April Dawn’ is a cold hardy japonica cultivar and grows in Zones 6 to 9 unless temperatures go below 10ºF. Then it will need some protection.
5. White By The Gate
If you live in Zones 7 to 9 and love pure white blooms, choose ‘White by the Gate.’ Many camellias have a hint of color when the blooms are white, but this japonica cultivar is pure whiteness.
Provide shade when it’s young and plenty of water. Older specimens are reasonably drought-tolerant when mulched.
Plant anytime between November and March when the weather is cooler.
This is a tall plant, growing up to 10 feet tall. The flowers on this sasanqua are gorgeous: Think white blooms with dark pink edges, gradually fading as the color moves toward the center of the bloom.
The delicate pink is met by yellow stamens surrounded by a darker pink color. Plant in a space with dappled sunlight in Zones 7 to 9 or try your hand at espalier forming.
Bright red blooms with stunning yellow stamens that attract pollinators in winter are what you’ll get with ‘Yuletide.’
Plant this evergreen sasanqua cultivar in Zones 7 to 10 and it grows to about 10 feet tall. You can even use this cultivar as a colorful winter hedge.
8. Jordan’s Pride
At 12 feet tall, C. japonica ‘Herme’ is a big plant. Blooms appear between January and March. Plant in Zones 7 to 9 and consider forming Jordan’s pride, as this one is commonly known, into a tree form.
The deep green foliage contrast wonderfully with the light and dark pink striped petals of the flowers.
This is a spring-blooming japonica cultivar that reaches up to 12 feet tall and six feet wide. One of the camellias that is happing growing in Zone 6, the brilliant red flowers appear in winter if it’s mild or early spring when it’s warmer.
10. Shishi Gashira
Hot pink and ruffled is the best way to describe the blooms of the four to five-foot-tall ‘Shishi Gashira.’
You can see blossoms for six months of the year in the right conditions, or even plant this sasanqua cultivar in pots where it is quite happy. Just make sure you prune it to shape once the last of the blooms have gone.
In Zones 7 to 10, you will get vibrant pink flowers in fall and through winter.
How to Propagate Camellias
Be sure to purchase camellias from a reputable seller. Most good sellers have plants that are ready to plant outside, and they usually stock specimens that are hardy enough for your region.
You can also propagate camellias yourself. To save money, or just because it’s quite easy, take cuttings from multiple plants and see what you end up with.
- Take six-inch cuttings from new spring growth once the bark turns brown and is a little firmer than when green. Use clean, sharp secateurs.
- Cut just below a node, so your cutting may be just over or just under six inches.
- Remove all the leaves except for the top three. Carefully cut those in half across the leaf.
- Dip in rooting hormone.
- Push the cuttings into your chosen growing medium. I just use seed-raising soil or potting mix.
- You can fit three or four cuttings in a six-inch container. Cover it with a plastic bag to keep the environment humid.
- Keep the soil moist. In three months, check for roots by gently pulling on the cutting. If there is resistance, plant outside where you want the shrub to grow. Be sure to harden the cuttings off for a few days before placing them in the garden.
How to Care For Camellias
Depending on the species or cultivar, camellias grow in Zones 6 to 10.
Plant in spring to give the plant time to establish its roots before the cold weather kicks in.
The soil should be organically rich and have a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. The soil must drain well, but hold sufficient moisture.
Provide dappled sunlight from the afternoon sun. The morning sun can burn the delicate blooms if they are still covered in dew and moisture and you live in a region that gets hot.
Check the specific requirements of your particular plant, as some like full shade, or a little more sun, though most can tolerate full sun.
Protect from winds because the buds are quite delicate.
The soil should stay moist, though once established they can tolerate some drought.
Fertilizing and Pruning Camellias
Camellias are heavy feeders, but you should only feed them twice a year. Once as the buds are forming in the fall and once as the buds open in the winter or spring. Use a natural, all-purpose food or one made specifically for camellias.
Synthetic fertilizers can damage the shrub, causing bud drop. Too much fertilizer can cause this as well.
In summer, mulch around the plant with well-rotted manure or compost. You can also sprinkle a little blood and bone around the plant in early spring before buds appear.
Most camellias don’t need too much pruning due to their pleasant shape. If you do prune to shape, do so just after blooming. This way, you won’t affect next year’s blooms. Always remove any damaged or diseased branches.
Best Companion Plants for Camellias
Anything that loves slightly acidic soil and a hint of shade can do well with camellias. Try the following:
Problems and Solutions for Growing Camellias
Yes, camellias are prone to some problems. However, if you keep them well-watered and in the appropriate soil with the right pH, they’ll be much less likely to experience issues. Here are the most common problems:
Camilla Petal Blight
This looks like little rust spots on the petals. The best thing to do is remove any flowers that are infected. Remove all fallen blooms as soon as possible.
If you have camellia petal blight and remove the flowers, make sure you remove the old mulch and replace it with new, fresh mulch.
Root Rot Fungus
Avoid any root-bound issues with camellias by ensuring the soil is well draining. The most common symptom is yellowing of the foliage and wilting of the entire plant.
Dig a little into the soil and if the roots are reddish, brown instead of white, root rot is likely the issue.
Use a generic fungicide to halt the fungus as best you can. It will take a few seasons for the shrub to recover fully.
Mites like the evergreen foliage of camellias. You will see mites under the leaves and they look like moving dust particles. If the leaves look dehydrated despite sufficient water, check the undersides.
Typically, if you spray your plants once a week with a blast of water, that’s enough to knock these pests loose and send them packing. You’ll have to do this for at least a month. If that doesn’t work, spray with a targeted mite killer.
Aphids are attracted to camellia when there is new growth, especially buds. See our aphid article here for tips on identification and control.
Leaf gall sometimes appears in the spring flush of growth caused by the fungus Exobasidium camelliae. The new flowers and leaves become thickened and pale and look powdery.
Remove all infected parts of the plant and spray with a fungicide.
Camellia leaves and petals are edible and are used around the world to make tea. These plants also produce a fruit that is filled with several seeds. These seeds can be used to make edible or cosmetic oil.
Not all camellias produce fruit, though. It depends on the type and if there are enough pollinators in your garden to fertilize the flowers so they’ll produce fruits.