How To Grow Camellias

As the weather cools and other flowers are starting to retreat, camellias begin bursting into bloom to brighten our days.

And while the rose is hailed as the queen of flowers, the camellia reigns in the garden in autumn and winter.

But these plants don’t need to be pampered like other queenly flowers. Once they are established, they’re tougher than you may think.

The majority of camellias are native to China, but some originate from neighbouring countries, such as Vietnam and Japan.

The most popular garden flowers include Camellia sasanqua, Camellia japonicaand Camellia reticulata, but there are many different varieties.

The right bloom

You’ll find a camellia for almost every niche you can think of, and there are lots of ways they can be used in garden design.

If you choose the species and cultivars carefully, you can have flowers blooming in your garden beds from early autumn to late winter.

Certain varieties are fragrant and all produce lots of nectar, which attracts lorikeets and honeyeaters.

Visit your local nursery for help in finding the camellia to suit the different areas in your garden.

You can also buy camellias online at This website includes a device to help you choose the right plant for the position.

Making tea

You can thank the camellia for your morning cuppa. Tea is the second most consumed drink in the world after water and all varieties are derived from Camellia sinsensis or Camellia sinensis var. assamica.

Camellia tea plants are kept low for plucking, but when unplucked they grow into good-sized shrubs.

Like wine, tea is influenced by the growing region, elevation, weather, soil, quality of the plucking, selection of the leaves, harvesting time and the oxidation process.

Tea is a good source of beneficial antioxidants and you can choose from black, green and oolong teas, and the delicate-tasting white variety.

Fragrant flowers

Here is a selection of camellias that have passed the sniff test.

  • High Fragrance Sweetly scented, with pale pink flowers.
  • Sweet Emily Kate Displays creamy-pink flowers in bloom.
  • Minato No Akebono Strong perfume and light-pink flowers.
  • Scentuous White flowers tinged with pink and fast-growing.
  • Koto No Kaori Bears a profusion of rose pink flowers.

How to grow

Give camellias a little TLC and you’ll be rewarded with masses of blooms.

SOIL should be slightly acidic with a pH of 5-6.5. Deep, friable and well-drained soils enriched with compost and cow manure are best.

If the soil is too alkaline, grow them in containers and improve clay soils with gypsum and organic material.

PLANT this surface-rooting plant in a hole twice as wide and as deep as the rootball. For a hedge, prepare the full bed rather than individual holes.

Water the plant well, remove it from the container and position it in the hole. Check the top of the rootball is level with the soil, backfill the hole, then tamp down and water in. Check the soil level and adjust if necessary.

WATER regularly, especially during spring and summer, as camellias can take two years to establish new roots once planted. Keep them mulched and watered, especially when hot and dry.

FEED twice a year in early spring to boost growth and later in summer for more flowers and further growth.

Use a complete or controlled-release fertiliser such as Osmocote in spring and blood and bone or well-rotted cow manure in summer. Always water the ground well before and after fertilising.

MULCH annually using sugar cane, lucerne hay or composted autumn leaves, but avoid using mushroom compost. Spread a layer 75-100mm thick, keeping it clear of the trunk.

PRUNE to remove dead wood or to reshape in late winter or early spring. Camellias that are grown for hedging should be tip-pruned all over, while older camellias can be pruned back heavily if needed to rejuvenate growth or control size.

TIP Unhealthy plants attacked by scale or mites should be treated with Pestoil.

Choose a variety

Camellia sasanqua

The first to perform, sasanqua cultivars produce masses of blooms, including fragrant varieties.

  • Fast to grow and low maintenance.
  • Vary from tall to dwarf, slender to upright and bushy to weeping forms.
  • Use for hedges, bonsai, espalier, groundcover, topiary and in pots.
  • Grow in sun or part shade.
  • Colours include cerise, white, pink and bicolours.
camellia sasanqua, handyman magazine,
The first to perform, sasanqua cultivars produce masses of blooms, including fragrant varieties

Cam ellia japonica

There are thousands of japonica cultivars, and flower forms range from singles through to formal doubles.

  • Vary from 1m shrubs to 6m trees.
  • Provide colour in shade and sun.
  • Flower in winter.
  • Many flower forms and sizes.
  • Can be hedged, trimmed or made into standards, and are ideal for screening.
  • Colours include white, cerise, crimson pink, cream, red and purple tinges.
camellia japonica, handyman magazine,
There are thousands of japonica cultivars, and flower forms range from singles through to formal doubles

Camellia reticulata

Often c alled glamour girls with their bold and blowzy flowers, reticula tas thrive in subtropical conditions.

  • Very large flowers.
  • Make pretty, small feature trees.
  • Depending on the cultivar, flowers can appear from May to September.
  • Many different flower forms.
  • Likes more sun than japonica.
  • Colours include shades of pink, red and white.
camellia reticulata, handyman magazine,
Often called glamour girls with their bold and blowzy flowers, reticulatas thrive in subtropical conditions.

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