Camellias are popular plants with showy blooms, and the Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica) is a favorite. The state flower of Alabama, this compact, long-lived shrub has dark, glossy foliage. The beautiful clusters of blooms usually appear in late winter and stay through the spring. They come in various colors and bring a plethora of pollinators to your garden. They are winter hardy to USDA zones 7 to 9, withstanding temperatures down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, but they do not fare well during extreme temperature fluctuations.
Camellia japonica care is tricky since it requires close soil monitoring; it can't tolerate overly acidic or wet soil and requires constant nutrients. Japanese camellias do not need full sun, preferring a light shade. They can grow in full sun, but they would benefit from protection from intense sun rays during scorching, sunny days. Camellia japonica can also grow well in pots, so you can move them to give them a break from the sun if necessary. When planting, place them in a spot with partial shade or protection from the hot afternoon sun.
Although Japanese camellias are slow-growing, they are often used as an informal screen. There are thousands of varieties, including 'Korean Fire' and 'Carter's Sunset,' with various bloom times, sizes, and petal forms. Some can be trained as an espalier specimen to grow up against a wall or fence. Camellia japonica has thick roots, but they are not invasive. They grow near the surface and do not threaten nearby homes or structures.
Is There a Meaning Behind Camellias?
Camellia flowers are native to China and Japan, symbolizing adoration, longing, and eternal love. Parts of the flower are said to signify a man and a woman. When the plant dies, the parts of the flower fall away together. In Latin, the word "camellia" means "helper of the priest" and was named for the Jesuit priest botanist Georg Joseph Kamel, who used plants to help heal the sick.
|Common Name||Japanese Camellia, Common Camellia|
|Botanical Name||Camellia japonica|
|Mature Size||7-12 ft. tall, 5-10 ft. wide|
|Soil Type||Loamy, Clay, Sandy|
|Soil pH||Acidic, Neutral, Alkaline|
|Bloom Time||Fall, Winter, Spring|
|Flower Color||White, Red, Pink, Purple|
|Hardiness Zones||7-9 (USDA)|
Japanese Camellia Care
These shrubs take their time establishing and are quite picky about growing conditions. They aren't fans of sudden temperature changes, inconsistent watering, or transplanting. When planting, dig a large hole as deep as the root ball and about four times wider. In colder regions, select a site sheltered from dry winter winds.
Japanese camellia work as companions for trees like magnolias and pines because they love partial shade and acidic pH levels. Planting in fall or spring is possible. In northern regions, early spring is best because a hard freeze makes it hard for the shrub to establish.
Japanese camellias produce the best blooms in a light-shade environment. They can cope in full sun but often need protection from the intense, direct afternoon sun.
These shrubs are picky about soil conditions. A well-drained, nutrient-rich, moist, and slightly acidic soil is best. If you notice the leaves on your shrub are turning yellow, it could be a sign that the soil is a little too acidic. A pH of 6 to 6.5 is ideal. Although they like moisture, it must be consistent, so avoid wet soils.
If you have dense, clay soils prone to saturation, you must grow your Japanese camellia in containers.
Japanese camellias need consistent moisture (but not to the point of saturation) to produce healthy abundant blooms. Using a root mulch can help retain moisture.
Temperature and Humidity
Sudden temperature changes are not your Japanese camellia's friend. They can cope with temperatures that drop to as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit but only for short periods.
Select the site carefully and ensure it has adequate shelter against cold winter winds.
If you want to see many healthy blooms on your Japanese camellia, apply a high-potassium fertilizer monthly during the summer. In the spring, you can use a slow-release nitrogen-rich fertilizer, as this will promote healthy, dark foliage. It's even possible to find camellia-specific fertilizers in some garden centers. For the amounts to use, follow product label instructions.
Types of Japanese Camellia
Of all the camellia species, Camellia japonica is the most widely grown and has the most cultivars. Thousands are available with various bloom times, sizes, and petal forms. Just a few popular options include:
- 'Betty Sheffield Supreme': Blooms midseason and has large white petals with red and pink blotched borders
- 'Carter's Sunset': Has large, semi-double pink peony-form flowers with a long bloom season
- 'Korean Fire': More cold-hardy than many cultivars, this can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 6 to 9, and the funnel-shaped red flowers certainly catch the eye
- 'Kramer's Surprise': A delightfully fragrant cultivar with brilliant red peony-form flowers
Unless you train your Japanese camelia, it won't need much pruning, and too much can spoil the attractive natural shape. Only remove dead or damaged branches or long, heavy shoots straight after the flowering season. This stimulates branching and prevents the accidental removal of new flower buds.
Propagating Japanese Camellia
Many gardeners successfully propagate Camellia japonica through the layering technique, where the new plant stays attached to the original one while roots are forming.
- Bend a long stem down to the ground in the summer months, then nick it at an angle.
- This wounded area should be looped, buried in the ground, and held with wire or a stone.
- Once a network of roots has been established over the growing season, it can be clipped off the parent plant and replanted elsewhere.
How to Grow Japanese Camellia From Seed
Mature seeds have pods that are beginning to crack slightly. It's possible to grow these shrubs from seed, but it is challenging as they ripen at different times depending on the cultivar and region. If you want to give it a try, follow these steps for a chance at success:
- Soak the seeds for 24 hours or crack off the hard coat, as this will aid germination.
- Sow in well-drained, loose soil rich in organic matter, ideally in a greenhouse where temperatures are around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Keep the soil moist but not saturated. Germination typically takes one to three months.
- When the seedlings are large enough to handle, you can move them to individual pots.
- Keep them in the greenhouse through their first winter.
- When they are at least six inches tall, you can transplant them to their permanent position, providing they have adequate protection from the cold.
Potting and Repotting Japanese Camellia
Camellias thrive in pots; however, repot them every two to three years as the roots and plant outgrow the container. The container will require ample drainage holes and a well-draining soil mixture, such as a camellia or azalea potting mix. You can make the mix from bark, sand, sphagnum moss, pumice stone, and compost.
This plant can't tolerate wet feet or soggy soil. It will need regular fertilizer in a container to grow healthy from April through September, only when temperatures are below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrain from feeding during those hot extremes.
If you live in a southern region and experience mild winters, your Japanese camellia can remain outdoors in a protected site all year round. You can protect the roots from freezing by covering the soil with a thick, mounded layer of dry leaves and pine needles. Covering the plant with a burlap or canvas protective fence until spring arrives. In the northern areas, container growing is better.
If you want to overwinter your plant indoors, you need a controlled environment where temperatures do not exceed 55 degrees Fahrenheit; otherwise, flower buds will drop. Excessive humidity and sudden changes in temperatures are not this shrub's friend.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Japanese camellias have no significant problems to worry about, although they can be susceptible to some fungal diseases. Keep an eye out for leaf spot, flower blight, and cankers so that you can nip any issues in the bud before they get out of control.
Scale insects can sometimes infest the plant in milder regions, and they can cause premature bud drop. Preventing your plant from becoming drought-stressed with enough water in the dry season can help to minimize this problem.
How to Get Japanese Camellia to Bloom
These shrubs will display beautiful flowers that grow in clusters through winter and early spring in the northern hemispheres. The flowers usually last three to four weeks. Exact flowering times, sizes, forms, and colors depend on your selected cultivar.
The most common colors are white, red, pink, and variegated, usually two to five inches in size.
To prevent premature or excessive bud drop, be careful to retain moist but not saturated soil conditions. Underwatering during the summer and when humidity is low is a common problem.
Too much sun and frigid temperatures can reduce the flowering display, so pick the correct position for your Japanese camellia. Remove all but one bud from the cluster if you want to increase the bloom size.
How long can Japanese Camellia live?
These plants have long lives. They can live to be hundreds of years old with the proper care. Some of these shrubs around the emperor's palace in Japan are known to be over 500 years old.
How fast do Japanese camellia grow?
A slow-growing evergreen shrub, the Japanese camellia can reach 25 feet, but this can take over 100 years. They can still take decades to reach heights above 6 to 8 feet. If you want a faster-growing variety, opt for a sasanqua.
Where should I plant Camellia japonica?
Camellia japonica needs a spot that does not get intense, hot sun all day. Protect it from the intensely hot afternoon sun by placing it in an area with partial shade.
Are camellias high maintenance?
Camellias are only high maintenance if their basic needs are not met. They need acidic soil, but not more than 6.0 pH, a well-draining, nutrient-rich soil, and a planting spot with partial shade. Their water needs are average, and they can withstand temperatures that occasionally and briefly dip to 10 F.