In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
February, 2014
Regional Report

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Hardy and beautiful, camellias add color to the winter garden.

Camellias for Cool Season Bloom

Camellias are evergreen shrubs native to the cool mountain regions of Asia. As a matter of fact, Camellia sinensis, a distant cousin of our own garden variety plants, is the plant that tea comes from. Camellias are perfectly adapted to our mild climate along the coast and thrive with minimum care, making them a perfect addition to the landscape.

Where to Plant
Place the plants out of direct sun, especially in areas that get hot in the summer, such as Santa Rosa, Napa, or Walnut Creek. You can grow camellias in those areas; just make sure that you plant them against a north-facing wall or under a protective lath.

Watering and Fertilizing
Mature camellias will survive on very little water; a layer of mulch will prevent the surface of the soil from drying out. All camellias prefer a fast-draining, sandy soil rich in organic compost. If you are planning to add some of these handsome shrubs to your garden, make sure they are not planted too deeply in the soil. The top of the root ball should stand one inch above the surface of the soil.

They are acid-loving plants, so fertilize with something like RAC (Rhododendron, Azalea, Camellia) fertilizer, being careful not to overfertilize.

Pruning
Prune lightly after the bloom period or in early summer prior to bud formation. Prune only to keep plants tidy. Any pruning done after mid-August will deplete the next set of blossoms.

Choosing Varieties
Depending on the variety, camellias bloom from September through April or May. C. sasanqua is the first to bloom in the late fall, followed by C. japonica and finally C. reticulata. By planting all three varieties in your garden, you will be assured of color throughout the winter and spring.

It's a good idea to purchase camellia plants now while they are in bloom. That way, you can select your favorite color and flower form. With over 3,000 named species, you will be sure to find one that suits you. The flowers range in color from white to red and all colors in between, including candy striped. The blossoms are elegant and formal -- almost too good to be true. There are single petal forms, semidoubles and doubles. Some varieties have flowers that are so packed with petals you wonder why they don't explode!

Preventing Disease
Camellias are susceptible to a fungus disease called petal blight. However, it is easy to prevent your plants from succumbing to the disease simply by raking up the fallen flowers and keeping the soil under the plants clean and raked up during the blooming period. An occasional bath during the morning hours in the summer months will keep your camellias free of spider mites.


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