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Camellias 101

The Martha Stewart Show, February 2008

For centuries, camellias have been admired as one of the most exotic and romantic shrubs in existence. Native to China and Japan, these evergreens bear flowers that range in color from a pure white to a deep rich red with many variations in size and shape.

Nonhardy Camellias
Nonhardy or tender camellias are historically known to be zone 7 to 9 plants growing outdoors in the southeastern and western United States. They have also been grown traditionally in heated greenhouses in the colder northern climates. The Camellia Greenhouse at Planting Fields is maintained at about 45 degrees to replicate the growing conditions in the mountains of Asia. They thrive in moist, well-drained, acidic soil with high organic content.

Camellias also prefer light shade, and mulch will also help to protect their shallow root system. Although camellias thrive in moist, cool environments, they are remarkably tolerant of hot conditions, provided they are watered properly. Pruning to shape plants or to maintain dense habits can be done after flowering. If severe pruning is needed, wait until late winter or early spring, when shrubs are still dormant. Nonhardy Camellias must be grown in a greenhouse or sheltered area.

Featured Non-Hardy Camellias
Camellia japonica 'Takayama'
Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'
Camellia japonica 'Mrs. D.W. Davis'
Camellia japonica 'Lady Clare'
Camellia japonica 'Fragrant Pink'
Camellia japonica 'Alba Plena'
Camellia japonica 'Tricolor'

Hardy Camellias
Although camellias have traditionally been considered landscape favorites for warmer, moderate climates in the United States, extensive research has produced many new, cold-hardy varieties that can be used in northern areas.

The majority of these cold-hardy selections are the result of extensive work done by two scientists, Dr. Ackerman and Dr. Parks. The Ackerman hybrids are primarily hybrids of several different species, while the Parks selections are hybrids and choice Japanese camellia varieties. These resilient shrubs flower in either fall or spring, depending on the species and variety chosen. Outdoors, the Japanese camellia varieties normally flower from early to late spring, and some of the hybrids bloom in late fall. Camellias used outdoors in colder climates should be sited carefully and protected from cold, windy, and exposed areas of the garden. Hardy camellias used outdoors in colder climates should be sited carefully and protected from full sun and windy, exposed areas of the garden. In the cooler climates of the northeast, camellias are best planted in the spring while plants in the warmer climates of the southeast are best suited for fall planting.

Featured Hardy Camellias
Camellia japonica 'April Blush'
Camellia japonica 'April Melody'
Camellia japonica 'Stellar Sunrise'
Camellia japonica 'Red Aurora'
Camellia oleifera
Camellia hybrid 'Winter Rose'

Special Thanks
Special thanks to Vinnie Simeone of Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park, Long Island's premier public arboretum and historic site, located in Oyster Bay, for sharing this helpful gardening information. Special thanks to Camellia Forest Nursery in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for supplying the camellias displayed on today's show.