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Camellias brighten winter landscapes

Sustainable Landscape News Distributed 12/25/09

By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists Dan Gill, Allen Owings and John Young

Camellias are part of our Southern gardening heritage. A few well-placed specimens will brighten up your landscape during the winter when few other shrubs are blooming. Winter is an excellent time to select blooming camellias at local nurseries and plant them into your landscape. Many home gardeners may not realize camellias, once established, are typically low-maintenance plants.

Louisiana gardeners are fortunate to be able to grow these amazing plants in our landscapes. The evergreen foliage alone is a beautiful addition to our gardens. Then, during winter, we are provided with a fantastic floral display.

The Latin name of the plant we call camellia is Camellia japonica. The flowers range in color from pure white to all shades of pink to the deepest red. Some varieties are variegated with white, red and pink streaks or patches in the same flower. The form or shape of the flower can range from single to peony to formal double. Flower size can be from a couple of inches up to 6 to 7 inches across. The leaves are oval, pointed, dark green and glossy.

Success with camellias depends on the planting site and care provided. Part sun to part shade is best, especially for younger plants. Choose a location that receives 4 to 6 hours of direct sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon, or choose a spot that receives bright, dappled shade throughout the day. When planted in full sun, camellias are subject to more stressful conditions.

Newly planted camellias often fail to open most of their flower buds for the first few years, but this generally lessens as the plants become established. Camellias are acid-loving plants and generally do best in soils with a pH below 7. Good drainage is essential. Do not plant camellias in areas that are poorly drained or where water settles after a rain. The addition of organic matter, such as compost, finely ground composted pine bark and rotted manure, to the soil in the area where camellias are planted will encourage healthy, vigorous root systems.

As with planting all trees and shrubs, depth of planting for camellias is very important. Make sure they are planted with the upper surface of the root ball even with or slightly above the soil level of the planting area. Apply mulch several inches thick around the newly planted camellia to help maintain moisture and prevent weeds from growing.

Tea scale is the most serious pest of camellias. These insects feed primarily on the undersides of the leaves, but in cases of extremely heavy infestations, they may also be found on the upper surfaces. The undersides of infested leaves will be covered with white and brown, slightly fuzzy masses, which eventually will lead to yellow blotches on the upper surfaces. Infested plants have poor vigor and will not bloom well.

Tea scale generally will not go away by itself. Oil sprays are effective in controlling tea scale and may be used in fall, winter and spring when temperatures are between 45 and 85 degrees. Systemic insecticides, such as imidacloprid, also can be used to control tea scale.

Fertilize camellias in the spring as new growth begins – about March or early April. Use a fertilizer labeled for acid-loving plants according to the manufacturer’s label. Although excellent drainage is necessary, camellias need adequate water, especially during hot, dry spells during the summer. This is particularly important for newly planted shrubs during their first year in the ground.

Visit LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is located near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (Louisiana Highway 30) in Baton Rouge across the street from the LSU baseball stadium. For more information, go to and

Rick Bogren

Last Updated: 12/23/2009 2:00:04 PM

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