How to root camellias?

Rooting Camellias – Knowledgebase Question

Some plants will root easily in water but others need special circumstances to encourage roots to grow. You can try all three of these methods to see which works best for you. Try rooting a cutting in plain water. If it does produce roots you can pot it up until it grows a substantial root mass, then plant it in the ground. A second way is to take semi-ripe stem cuttings in the late summer, dip the cut end in rooting hormone, and plant in a container of potting soil. You’ll know the cutting has rooted when new leaves begin to grow from the stem. Finally, you can layer a branch from a healthy camellia. Bend one of the branches down so it lays along the soil. Make a slight nick in the bottom of the stem, hold the injury open with a twig or small stone, then bury the wounded part of the stem in the soil. Allow the end of the branch to remain above ground. Within a year new roots should form at the site of the injury and you can cut the newly rooted branch away from the parent plant and plant it in the ground.
Camellias produce flowers on their own and do not need a second camellia to act as a pollenizer.

Growing Camellias: How To Propagate Camellias

How to grow camellias is one thing; how to propagate them is another. Propagation of camellias is usually accomplished through seeds, cuttings or layering, and grafting. While taking cuttings or layering is the easiest and most preferred method, many people are still interested in how to grow camellias from seed.

Growing Camellias

Camellias usually grow best in partially shaded areas in well-drained soil. Although planting can take place at any time, fall is more favorable, as the roots have more time to establish themselves.

Camellias require frequent watering once planted, eventually shortening to about once a week once plants are established. A generous layer of organic mulch will help retain moisture and keep down weeds. Pruning of camellia is usually not necessary but may be performed in spring for appearance.

How to Grow Camellias from Seed

Growing camellias from seed

is much slower than other propagation methods, taking many years to bloom, if at all. Camellia fruit or seeds ripen at various times depending on their location and variety. Most, however, are ready to harvest in fall. Mature camellia seedpods turn brown and crack open. Once this occurs, collect the mature camellia seedpods and soak the seeds for about twelve hours prior to planting. Do not allow camellia fruit (seeds) to dry out. They should be planted as soon as possible.

Seeds can be germinated faster by placing them in a plastic bag and covered with sphagnum moss, which should be misted until moist. They will usually germinate within a month or so, at which time you should notice small taproots. Prior to planting these in pots, snip off some of the taproots. Continue to keep them moist when planted and place the pots in a warm location with bright, indirect light.

Additional Propagation Methods

An alternative to growing camellias from seed is by taking cuttings or layering. This usually ensures an identical plant and the waiting time for plants is not as long. This process is best done during summer. Make an angled cut on the stem or branch and dip it into rooting hormone. Bend the branch over to place in the soil. Secure with a rock or wire and allow to remain in the ground one season or until significant rooting occurs. Then clip away from the parent and plant as usual.

Grafting is a bit more complicated, requiring slightly more skill than the average gardener may have. Therefore, layering is preferable.

Semi-ripe Cuttings

SERIES 19 | Episode 10

Taking a semi-ripe cutting is a technique worth knowing because it’s one of the easiest and cheapest ways to propagate new plants.

These types of cuttings are called semi-ripe because they are taken when the base of the new shoots are starting to turn woody and that is what’s meant by ripening.

Take soft wood cuttings in spring and hard wood cuttings in winter. But semi-ripe cuttings are best taken in mid to late autumn. The plants that best strike from this type of cutting include rosemary, viburnum, camellias and lavenders.

The method:

  • Look for a shoot that’s got some new growth attached to some old growth, and that’s what makes a semi-ripe cutting.
  • The younger or newer season growth is paler and joins lower down the stem where it’s a deeper brown colour. Rip the stem to leave what’s called a heel. (That means mixing the new and some of the old. That’s why it’s called a heel. It looks like the heel of a shoe.)
  • Strip the lower leaves from the stem -where it will go into the propagating mix.
  • Use honey or rooting hormone powder – and just dip the end of the stems into these products to hasten root development.
  • Use a dibber to make a hole and plant the cutting into that – it should go into the propagating mix about 7cm. Use a well drained sandy mix. Plant each one about a finger length apart. Plant 10 cuttings – and you should get about 10 to strike.

The roots grow from the all important heel in about eight weeks and will be ready to plant out in spring. Water them in and use the cut off bottom of a soft drink container over them as a mini glasshouse.

There is a knack to taking semi-ripe cuttings, but it’s fun, and a satisfying way to grow a mass of plants and it means you’ll save a bomb.

Plant Propagation from Cuttings

How often do we see a lovely shrub or perennial in a friend’s garden and just wish we had one like it? And with a little skill, ingenuity AND your friend’s permission, there’s no reason why you can’t have one or more the same. A word of caution here though, to avoid spreading weeds make sure that you don’t propagate anything you can’t identify, and ALWAYS ask permission. It is very frustrating for proud gardeners with attractive shrubs tumbling over their garden fence to find pieces constantly being ‘ripped’ off by passing walkers. The plant will suffer from needless brutalisation and the ‘cuttings’ may not actually survive the damage of being torn from the parent plant. So just ask!

Cuttings

A cutting is the term we use for lengths of plant material being used specifically to propagate new plants. In contrast to growing plants from seed, where we may get plants that are slightly different from what we expected, cuttings will always be clones of the parent plant from which the cutting was taken. So a camellia cutting from a plant with a pink and white flower will produce another identical camellia with a pink and white flower. If you were to take the seed from that same parent camellia you would not be guaranteed to get a camellia with a pink and white flower. Nature has a tendency to play games when growing from seed, all in the name of maintaining a healthy gene pool, of course!

Softwood, Semi-hardwood and Hardwood Cuttings

These terms relate to the period in the growing cycle when the cutting is taken.

Softwood Cuttings are generally taken in spring and early summer when the plant is putting on its new growth and there are a lot of growth hormones in the plant system. Soft wood cuttings usually strike (start to grow roots) relatively quickly. Chose slightly firmer pieces of plant material and avoid very soft sappy growth. Softwood cuttings generally benefit from the addition of some heat (mentioned further on).

Semi-hardwood Cuttings are taken mid- summer after flowering when the plant is putting on new growth and starting to harden. They strike quickly and give good results without the need for additional heat.

Hardwood Cuttings are generally taken at the end of summer and take longer to strike than those taken earlier in the season. However as this period coincides with the garden’s Autumn pruning, particularly of perennials, it is easy to source cutting materials. And with so much cutting material available, even if some fail, most will be ready to plant the following spring.

Types of Plants suitable for Cuttings

All perennial and shrubby plants provide excellent potential for cuttings. The most successful plant material for cuttings comes from the ‘square’ stemmed plants eg from the Laminaceae family. This includes salvias, mint, rosemary and many other herbs. Many of the perennials in the daisy family, like Federation Daisies, also do well from cuttings however other daisy plants, like Echinacea sps, are best propagated from root division.

Taking cuttings

The preferred cutting length is about 10cm to 12cm with at least 2 to 3 nodes on each cutting. The lower cut should be on an angle just beneath the first node. You can also ‘nick’ the area just beneath the lower node taking care not to damage the node itself. This node will be below the soil surface and this is where the root zone will develop.

The top cut should be made above the next node (or the one above). The entire cutting length should contain 2 or 3 nodes in total. These upper nodes will be where the leaves of the new plant will shoot. Take care not to damage any of the nodes along the cutting length. Plant nodes have the amazing ability to produce either roots or leaves depending on whether they are above or below the soil level which is why cuttings are so effective.

The lower node may be dipped in a ‘rooting hormone’ if desired although if a lower strike rate is acceptable this is not essential. For a natural rooting hormone you may try dipping the cutting in honey.
Reputably pieces of willow (an introduced species) soaked in water for about 10 days produce an excellent rooting hormone. This may be why they have been so successful at colonising our river banks and become serious environmental weeds!! If using this willow method, dispose of the willow pieces carefully so as not to increase their weedy spread. And yes, they probably will be still viable even after 10days in a bucket of water!
Avoid taking cutting from any plant when it is in flower as these cuttings will have less potential for success.
If the cutting has broad-leaf leaves, eg feijoa plants remove all except the top two leaves. If the top two leaves are very large, they can be cut in half laterally so the cutting doesn’t lose too much moisture through the leaves.
If the cuttings have multiple narrow small leaves, eg lavender and rosemary, remove the leaves on the lower 2/3rds of the cutting. The multiple nodes left all have the potential to produce roots when they strike.
Growing Medium

Cuttings do best in a free draining mixture so that they don’t rot. It is best to put lots of cuttings in the same pot rather than single cuttings in many post. The warmth and humidity of having them all clustered together will help them to strike. To increase the warmth and humidity, and maintain heat overnight, if possible cover the pot with a clear plastic ‘hood’ or the end of a polystyrene bottle. If doing this, keep the pot out of direct sunlight so that the air inside in the pot doesn’t heat up too much and ‘cook’ the cuttings. Mist the cuttings regularly to help regulate the temperature and keep a moist environment.

Potting up

Leave the cuttings in the pot long enough for them to establish strong root systems. Remove any cuttings that start to look like they have failed so that you don’t allow rots and fungal problems to enter the pot. They will usually look weak, brown off and begin to rot at the base.
You can generally tell when the cutting has taken if it starts to put on new leaves and to grow. However be patient as the roots may take longer to develop. Continue to water the cuttings until you are ready to pot up.
You can test for roots by gently rocking the cutting. If you feel no resistance, then the roots have probably not yet developed.
When you think the cuttings are ready to pot up, tip the pot gently upside down and remove all of the contents together. Lay on a piece of newspaper and gently start to disentangle the roots. It is important to minimise the damage to these young roots as the vigour of the new plants depends on a strong root system.

Pot the young cuttings into small pots with a good quality potting mix. Water in with a weak solution of seaweed fertiliser or worm leachate tea. Put the cuttings in a sheltered spot to ‘harden off’ before gradually introducing them to a more open environment.

Once the root mass of the cutting starts to fill its new pot, either pot on again or, if the conditions are suitable, plant into a prepared garden bed. And enjoy the fruits of your labour for years to come!

Many new plant cultivars that have been developed over the past decade may be subject to Plant Breeders Rights (PBR). PBR is effectively a plant patent. You may propagate these plants for your own use but NOT for resale unless you pay a royalty to the PBR holder. If in doubt, check the original plant label or seed packet or look for the PBR symbol.

The camellias outside my office building are blooming and dropping what looks like seeds from a bowl-shaped pod. Can I grow the seeds? -Susan

Those indeed are seeds, and you can grow them! Camellias grow very slowly and can take years to bloom, so growing from seed is an exercise in patience.

Here are some tips on how to grow camellias from seed:

  • Let Seeds Ripen: Camellia seed pods typically ripen in early fall but can occur whenever camellias are blooming. Wait until the pods open before harvesting the seeds. One way to do this is to tie a bag of loose cloth (like cheesecloth or the end of a pair of pantyhose) lightly around the pod, so it will catch the seeds when they fall. Or you can pick them up off the ground. Mature camellia seeds should be brown, with a tough shell and an “eye” on one end. For help identifying camellia seed pods and seeds, check out this camellia identification guide from the University of Florida.
  • Plant Immediately: Plant camellia seeds soon after harvesting. They shouldn’t be allowed to dry out, and some growers like to soak the seeds overnight before planting. If you must store camellia seeds, put them in the fridge in an airtight bag.
  • Planting Seeds: To plant camellia seeds, you’ll need a light seed-starting mix, or a mixture of perlite and peat moss. Wet the planting mix and squeeze out the excess water. Plant your camellia seeds by placing them on top of the planting mix with the eye facing either down or sideways, and cover lightly with soil. Cover the pots with plastic, and place them in a warm spot with bright indirect light (not full sun). Keep the soil moist but not soggy.
  • Germinating Seeds: (optional) If you prefer, you can germinate camellia seeds in a plastic bag with a handful of soil, then plant them in pots once they germinate. This allows you to focus only on the seeds that are viable.
  • Be Patient: Camellia seeds can take from one to several months to sprout, and they often sprout roots before leaves, so it takes even longer to see progress aboveground.
  • Cut the Root. Camellias grow a long taproot that can be stunted if grown in pots. Once the plant has sprouts aboveground, it’s common practice to gently dig up the seedlings and pinch off the tip of this taproot, to encourage the roots to branch out into more of a ball.
  • Allow to Grow: Camellia seedlings can take 5-7 years to bloom, and they likely will not be exactly like the parent plant. You can shave a year or two off the process by looking around under your camellias for seedlings that have sprouted on their own, and gently transplanting them to pots or into your yard.

Further Information

  • How to Grow Camellias (article)
  • Camellia: Seed and Seedlings (International Camellia Society)
  • Growing Camellia From Seed (Southern California Camellia Society)
  • Growing From Seeds (mobilecamellia.org)

Growing Camellia Seeds

Camellia seeds are easy to grow; the most important thing to remember is that they should never be allowed to dry out! After harvest, our seeds are immediately stratified for a minimum of 2 months to encourage long-term viability and uniform germination.

“Stratification” is the process of manually replicating winter or ‘cold season’ conditions for seeds. While Camellia seeds do not actually require a ‘cold season’ in order to germinate, it tends to make them perform much more reliably. When seeds are started in the post-stratification “spring”, success rates are higher, and seedlings emerge both earlier and at a more consistent rate.

INDOORS

Prepare a seed tray or small pot with well-draining soil; we recommend 2 parts aged pine bark to one part perlite, mixed with the lowest recommended rate of any slow-release fertilizer.

Place

Seeds planted indoors should go into a small pot or tray with well-draining soil. I used a soil mixture of 2/3 aged pine bark and 1/3 perlite with the lowest recommended rate of slow release fertilizer mixed in. 3-5 seeds can be planted in a 4″ pot, or more seeds can be planted in a tray. I plant the seeds about 1/2 inch deep and keep moist, but not wet. Temperatures of 40°F to 75°F are good for germination, although higher temperatures will encourage faster emergence. A bright window should be enough light. I would put the pot in partial shade or filtered light if outdoors. I usually transplant these after the plants form a few leaves. The roots system can be tangled and it is OK to cut off the long, developing tap root to prevent coiling of the roots. When weather is above freezing, I would put the plants outdoors in partial sun. Seedlings in pots are watered when the soil begins to dry out, but this depends on the conditions such as atmospheric humidity and temperature. Light fertilization in spring and early summer helps encourage growth. It is possible to have seedlings bloom in 2 years, but usually, it takes 4-5 years. Small seedlings can be overwintered the following winter by sinking the pot into the soil in milder areas or keeping in a cool, bright location indoors.

OUTDOORS

Seeds can be planted directly outdoors, in the shade. A weed-free seedbed should be prepared and marked so it will not be disturbed. Plant the seeds about half an inch deep and allow them to germinate as they are ready. The seeds can be planted in the fall or spring, and they will emerge at the appropriate time. It may be necessary to protect the seeds from animals with a screen (mice are particular fanciers of Camellia seeds). The seeds send a root straight down when planted outdoors, which is good for hardiness. These seedlings can almost take care of themselves; try and keep the weeds from competing too much and some water during dry periods is helpful. They can be transplanted the following winter, if you wish to move them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *