In the Garden:
Camellia sasanqua blooms for months, even under changeable conditions.
Winter Wonders: The Camellias
"There are those who bloom in winter." So says the inscription on my favorite sculpture nestled among the Camellia japonicas at Mynelle Gardens in Jackson, Mississippi. Across the South, the so-called "empress of the winter garden" now reigns.
Popular in every garden setting, Camellia sasanqua blooms quite nearly without care. Cold rain, hot afternoons, drought, and flood seldom affect them. These plants simply shake off the changes and spew forth more flowers. You can use this versatile family of shrubs anywhere you want in your landscape to add winter interest, evergreen leaves, and red, white, or pink flowers. Sasanquas range in mature height from 2 to nearly 20 feet tall. They can be planted to cover the ground beneath a huge oak or add shade to your patio.
More landscape architects seem to have rediscovered Camellia japonica in the past few years. I've seen them used as sturdy evergreens flanking the front door of two-story suburban brick homes, and more than one restored urban garden I've visited recently featured a collection of japonicas. One wholesale grower in south Louisiana has found a niche; he grows only specimen- size C. japonicas that reach only 6 feet tall when fully mature but produce hundreds of buds.
Twenty years ago everyone thought of these shrubs and small trees as "quaint," the province only of collectors and those plagued with old, overrun gardens. However, new varieties, better insect controls, and a change in tastes have brought C. japonica back to her throne. Plus, nothing tops this plant for cut flower elegance.
Camellia Care Regime
Plant camellias in well-drained, very organic soil that you plan to water regularly during dry times. Find a spot with high shade, such as beneath tall pine trees. Sunlight will get in, but the tree canopy offers protection from weather extremes and summer's leaf-burning afternoon sun. These more moderate conditions can sustain the steady growth over time that is desired with the relatively slow-growing C. japonica and C. sasanqua shrubs. Keep the root area mulched to provide cool soil in summer, but pull back the mulch in fall. Fertilize both after they bloom and again in June annually, using a shrub fertilizer with a slow-release formula. Clean up underneath shrubs when petals fall to prevent disease, and use an oil spray on mature shrubs annually in winter to kill overwintering insects.
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