When do camellias bloom?

Camellia

Camellia japonica ‘Berenice Boddy’ blooming in February with semi-double flowers.
Karen Russ, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Camellias are large, attractive, broad-leaved, evergreen shrubs that are highly prized for their flowers, which bloom from winter to spring. There are more than 2,300 named cultivars registered with the American Camellia Society. In South Carolina the primary camellias used include cultivars of Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica), Sasanqua camellia (C. sasanqua and two closely related species, C. hiemalis, and C. vernalis), tea camellia (C. sinensis), tea-oil camellia (C. oleifera), and many hybrids using two other species extensively (C. reticulata and C. salvenensis).

Mature Height/Spread

Common Japanese Camellia (Camellia japonica) is a broadleaved, evergreen shrub, which may grow to a height of 25 feet, but more often to 6 to 12 feet. It has a spread of 6 to 10 feet. The dark-green leathery leaves are 4 inches long. The flowers, which range in color from white to pink and red, are 3 to 5 inches in diameter. They flower on different varieties from September until April. The flowers may be single, semi-double, double, formal double or full peony form. Some Japanese camellias, around the emperor’s palace in Japan, are known to be more than 500 years old.

Camellia sasanqua, along with C. hiemalis and C. vernalis, are broad-leaved evergreen shrubs, varying in form from upright and densely bushy to low and spreading. Heights range from 1½ to 12 feet tall. The leaves are dark green, shiny and about 2 inches long. Their leaves are usually darker green and smaller than the leaves of C. japonica or C. reticulata. The flowers are mostly single or semi-double, 2 to 3 inches in diameter, and very fragrant.

Tea camellia (Camellia sinensis) grows to about 10 feet tall and has been in cultivation for three thousand years. New leaves are harvested to produce tea from plants that are kept pruned to waist high. Green, black, white and oolong teas all are produced from the tea camellia foliage. Culture of tea camellia is the same as for other camellia species, and it will grow throughout South Carolina (USDA cold hardiness zones 7-9).

Pink-flowered tea camellia (Camellia sinensis ‘Rosea’) blooming in October.
Joey Williamson, ©2012 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Tea camellia flowers in the fall, and the straight species has white flowers. The variety ‘Rosea’ has pale pink flowers, and new foliage has a reddish tint.

Tea oil camellia (Camellia oleifera) is a large shrub to 20 feet tall with glossy, dark green leaves and fragrant, 2-inch-wide flowers in fall.

Tea oil camellia (Camellia oleifera ‘Snow Flurry’) blooming in November.
Joey Williamson, ©2012 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Camellia reticulata has some of the biggest and most spectacular flowers, but is a rather gaunt and open shrub, about 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide.

This species is very susceptible to cold. Mild frost will kill the plant. Camellia reticulata hybridized with C. japonica or C. saluenensis results in excellent hybrids.

Growth Rate

Harvesting the new foliage in hedges of tea camellia (Camellia sinensis) in Charleston, SC at the Charleston Tea Plantation.
Joey Williamson, ©2012 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Japanese camellias grow very slowly and can grow to be quite old. Some hundred-year-old plants may reach 25 feet high or more and as wide, but most gardeners can consider camellias to be 10-foot-tall shrubs. Many are even lower growing. Camellia sasanqua cultivars are faster growing than C. japonica.

Landscape Use

Camellias are used as specimen large shrubs, shrub borders and screens. The main ornamental feature is their showy flowers.

Cultivation

Camellias need well-drained soil rich in organic material for establishment. Because camellias are slow-growers, they are slow to get established. Competition for water is the one critical thing in establishment. They thrive and bloom best when sheltered from full sun and drying winds. Older camellia plants can thrive in full sun when they are mature enough to have their roots shaded by a heavy canopy of leaves.

Camellia vernalis ‘Yuletide’ with single form, crimson red flowers in November.
Joey Williamson, ©2012 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Camellias can be planted any time of the year (preferably from October to November and from March to mid-April) provided they are properly planted and mulched and checked for water frequently. Camellias are shallow-rooted plants. They must be planted shallowly. It is recommended to dig a large, deep planting hole to cut the roots of neighboring trees, which will otherwise compete for water with the newly planted camellia. Also remove stones and break up heavy clay soils. Partially fill the hole with loose soil before planting the camellia shallowly.

Soil moisture should be conserved by using a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch. Camellias prefer a slightly acid soil, and light applications of an azalea and camellia fertilizer during the spring may be used to maintain dark-green, attractive foliage. Follow the instructions on the fertilizer label. Do not use more than called for. Burned leaf edges and excessive leaf drop usually indicate over-fertilizing.

Some flower bud dropping may be a natural phenomenon. Many camellias set more buds than they can open. Bud drop can be caused by under-watering in the summer.

Camellia hiemalis ‘Kanjiro’ blooming in November.
Joey Williamson, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Camellias require very little pruning except for the removal of damaged branches and long shoots that detract from the attractive form of the shrub. Cutting back severely (no leaves left) can be done safely from Valentine’s Day to around May 1. Cutting out the dead and weak stems can be done anytime.

Problems

Three diseases and one insect pest are serious on camellias in South Carolina:

  • Dieback and canker
  • Root rot
  • Camellia flower blight
  • Tea scale

For more information on diseases and insect pests on camellias refer to HGIC 2053, Camellia Diseases & Insect Pests.

Cultivars

Camellia japonica ‘Pink Perfection’ blooming in March with formal double flowers.
Joey Williamson, ©2012 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Camellia japonica cultivars: Following is a list of C. japonica cultivars that are old standbys. The listing specifies bloom season, flower size, color and petal configuration. The earliest types start blooming in November in the Low country, while late varieties still have flowers in May. Very large flowers are over 5 inches in diameter, large are 4 inches, medium are 3 inches, small are 2 inches or less across.

  • ‘Adolphe Audusson’ – Midseason; very large; semi-double, dark red.
  • ‘Betty Sheffield Supreme’ – Midseason; large; white blotched with red and pink.
  • ‘Berenice Boddy’ – Midseason; medium; semi-double, light pink.
  • ‘Daikagura’ – Early-late season; large; rose- pink blotched with white.
  • ‘Debutante’ – Early-midseason; medium-large, full peony form, light pink.
  • ‘Desire’ – Midseason; medium large; formal double, pale pink edged in darker pink.
  • ‘Kramer’s Supreme’ – Midseason; very large; full peony form, red.
  • ‘Kumasaka’ – Midseason-late; medium-large; semi-double, pink; plant size 6 to 8 feet tall.
  • ‘Lady Clare’ – Midseason; large; semi- double, dark pink; above-average cold hardiness.
  • ‘Magnoliaeflora’ – Midseason; medium; semi-double, pale-pink.
  • ‘Mathotiana’ – Midseason-late; very large; formal double, crimson.
  • ‘Guilio Nuccio’ – Midseason; very large; semi-double, coral rose.
  • ‘Nuccio’s Gem’ – Midseason; medium-large, formal double, white.
  • ‘Pink Perfection’ – Early season; medium; formal double, pink.
  • ‘R.L. Wheeler’ – Late; large; semi-double, rose pink.
  • ‘Rev. John G. Drayton’ – Late season; semi-double; carmine-rose.
  • ‘White by the Gate’ – Mid- to late-season; medium; white; plant size 6 to 10 feet tall.

Camellia sasanqua ‘Shishi-Gashira’ blooming in November.
Joey Williamson, ©2012 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Camellia sasanqua cultivars:

  • ‘Egao’ – C. vernalis; medium; semi-double, rose pink
  • ‘Hana Jiman’ – Medium; white edged in pink.
  • ‘Jean May’ – Large; pink; excellent variety, but very susceptible to leaf gall disease.
  • ‘Kanjiro’ – C. hiemalis; large; semi-double, rose pink; vigorous growing plant to 10 feet tall.
  • ‘Pink Snow’ – Large; semi-double, light pink; outstanding.
  • ‘Setsugekka’ – white; semi-double, large ruffled petals; vigorous plant growth to 10 feet tall.
  • ‘Shishi-Gashira’ – Mid-season; medium; semi-double, dark pink; drought tolerant; plant size 4 to 5 feet tall.
  • ‘Yuletide’ – C. vernalis; small; single, crimson-red; slow growing.

Camellia x williamsii ‘Debbie’ with rose pink blooms in March. This is a hybrid between C. japonica and C. saluenensid.
Joey Williamson, ©2012 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Recommended camellia hybrids:

  • ‘Valley Knudsen’ is a hybrid between C. reticulata and C. saluenensis. Midseason-late; large; semi-double, deep orchid pink.
  • ‘Dr. Clifford Parks’ is a hybrid between C. reticulata and C. japonica ‘Kramer’s Supreme’. Late season; very large; semi-double to peony, intense red with orange cast.
  • ‘Mona Jury’ (C. x williamsii) is a hybrid between C. saluenensis and C. japonica ‘Daikagura.’ Large; peony form, apricot pink; slow growing shrub.
  • ‘Debbie’ (C. x williamsii) is a hybrid between C. saluenensis and C. japonica ‘Debutante.’ Peony form, rose pink; vigorous shrub.

Many different camellia cultivars and their descriptions may be found at the American Camellia Society website: www.americancamellias.org.

Pruning Camellias: How To Prune A Camellia Plant

Growing camellias has become a popular gardening past time. Many gardeners who grow this lovely flower in their garden wonder if they should be pruning camellias and how to do this. Camellia pruning is not essential to good camellia plant care but it can help to stave off some types of disease or to better shape the plant.

Best Time for Camellia Pruning

The best time to prune a camellia plant is right after it has stopped blooming, which will most likely be in May or June depending on the variety. Pruning the plant at other times will not harm the plant, but it may remove some of the blossom buds for next year.

Pruning Camellias for Disease and Pest Control

Camellia pruning to control disease and pests consists of thinning out some of the inner branches to improve air flow and allow more light to reach deeper into the plant. These two factors can help reduce problems that are common to a camellia plant.

Examine the interior or the camellia plant and identify small or weak branches that are not main branches within the plant. Using a sharp, clean pair of pruners, snip off theses branches right at the place it meets the main branch.

Pruning Camellias for Shape

Shaping the plant is an enjoyable aspect of camellia plant care. Shaping the plant will encourage more vigorous, bushy growth and will increase the number of blooms.

After the camellia plant has finished blooming, pinch or snip the ends of the branches back to the desired size. If you want your growing camellias to grow larger than they currently are, just prune back an inch or less. If you would like your camellias to stay a certain size, cut them back to a few inches less than the size you desire.

Growing camellias in your garden adds beauty and color. Proper camellia plant care with a little pruning will result in a spectacular plant.

Camellias are bursting into bloom in pink, red, cream and yellow

Ask a non-gardener if they know of the deep-rooted cultural connection between Ireland and the genus of plants known as Camellia and your question is likely to be greeted with an expression of complete bemusement.

Yet if it weren’t for the small, flavoursome leaves of an evergreen shrub called Camellia Sinensis, we’d be without our national drink and deprived of the famously restorative powers of a freshly-brewed cup of tea. Even Dublin coffee-house Bewley’s – celebrated by James Joyce in Dubliners – probably wouldn’t exist. Its founders established their thriving business by importing more than 2,000 chests of the tea plant’s dried leaves from China into Dublin, thus breaking the British East India Company’s monopoly on tea imports from the Far East.

Camellia Spring Festival is a compact, long-flowering variety with double-pink flowers in spring. Photograph: Richard Johnston

What the Bewley family probably didn’t know at the time is that while native to China and India, the tea plant will also grow quite happily in our damp Irish climate when given a cool, moist but well-drained neutral to acid soil in full sun or light shade with shelter from cold winds.

It’s not, however, the most ornamental species of camellia. Instead that honour goes to the countless different varieties/hybrids of Camellia Japonica, Camellia Reticulata, Camellia X Williamsii and Camellia Sasanqua as well as the dainty Camellia Transnokoensis . Grown in gardens all over Ireland, many are now coming into peak spring bloom, their evergreen branches festooned with large, colourful flowers reminiscent of roses or peonies – some single, some double, some semi-double – in varying shades of cream, pink, red and even pale yellow.

Camellia Mrs Tingley, a relatively compact, early spring-flowering variety with soft pink blooms Photograph: Richard Johnston

In particular, Mount Congreve Gardens in Co Waterford is known worldwide for its outstanding collection of close to 800 different cultivars and species, most of them planted by the garden’s late owner Ambrose Congreve back in the 1950s. This is the place to see mature camellias growing en masse, some as large as trees, planted in generous swathes and in the sort of sheltered woodland setting that these plants adore.

Camellia Lady Campbell, a red-flowering variety. Photograph: Richard Johnston

Despite the recent punishing weather, head gardener Michael White promises visitors a wonderful display over the coming weeks, and months, proof that these predominantly spring-flowering shrubs are far hardier than commonly believed. Among his own favourites are the exceptionally long-flowering Camellia Japonica or Gloire de Nantes, which has been blooming at Mount Congreve since December, Camellia X Williamsii or George Blandford (also in bloom since December), and the ultra-compact, creamy-yellow, floriferous hybrid known as Camellia Buttermint.

I say predominantly because while the camellia season is traditionally associated with late winter/spring, there is another exceptionally garden-worthy species – the aforementioned Camellia Sasanqua –that blooms in Mount Congreve from autumn through to late winter. Unlike its spring-flowering counterparts, it needs a position in full sun but otherwise it shares the same cultural requirements as regards its preference for a moist but well-drained, neutral to acid soil and shelter from cold winds.

Camellia Brushfield’s Yellow forms a tall evergreen shrub with large double, creamy-yellow flowers from February to April. Photograph: Richard Johnston

Not every Irish garden can provide these kinds of growing conditions, of course, in which case the good news is that camellias are very happy to grow in a large pot or raised bed filled with a mix of ericaceous compost and John Innes compost. Kept well-watered during the summer and given a light top dressing of slow-release ericaceous fertiliser in late March/April and again in late June/July, they’ll do just fine as long as their root systems are kept well away from old walls built using lime mortar.

Although the more compact kinds are the best choice for small gardens or for containers, all camellias can be pruned (do this immediately after they’ve finished flowering) to keep them from outgrowing their allotted space. Indeed, very old, damaged or pest-ridden plants can be successfully rejuvenated with a very hard prune, while large pot-grown specimens in danger of outgrowing their containers can be kept in check by lightly pruning their roots.

Camellias can also be trained as standards (lollipop style) or as espaliers where space is tight, or even grown as a handsome evergreen hedge. And if honey fungus is a problem in your garden, then these hardworking versatile plants make an excellent choice as they have good resistance to this damaging soil-borne plant disease.

Of course, no genus of plants is perfect, but in the case of camellias, most problems are as a result of poor site selection or improper watering. Yellowing of the leaves, for example, is often a sign that the soil is too alkaline. If container-grown, this can be remedied with a fresh top dressing of ericaceous compost as well as the aforementioned slow-release ericaceous fertiliser. Yellow leaves can also be a sign of poorly-drained soil/compost so take appropriate precautions. On the other hand, inadequate summer watering will result in your camellia either failing to form flower buds or dropping young flower buds, meaning you lose that display of colourful blossom.

So as a precautionary measure, push container-grown specimens away from the overhang of roofs/shelter of walls come early summer so that rainfall will help them survive short periods of neglect. Conversely, keep the compost on the dry side during winter and move the pots to a sheltered spot.

Finally, as regards planting these highly ornamental, versatile shrubs in your garden, late March/April is an excellent time to do so with the added benefit that by buying the plants in flower (the exception being Sasanqua) you can be sure of what you’re getting. All good Irish garden centres carry a great selection at this time of year including Kildare-based Johnstown Garden Centre (johnstowngardencentre.ie)

* Located in Kilmeaden, County Waterford, Mount Congreve Gardens reopens to the public today (10.30am-4.30pm). Group tours of the garden by head gardener Michael White are available by prior arrangement (telephone 051-384115). See mountcongreve.com

This Week in the Garden

Lawns

Avoid walking on these repaired patches until the new grass has had a chance to properly establish itself.

Early March’s Siberian weather has left its mark on many lawns with heavy snow killing growth and resulting in bald/ bare patches. To repair these, wait until soil conditions have improved/warmed up and then pick a dry day to aerate the compacted soil surface by spiking it with a garden fork. Sprinkle the surface with a shallow layer of damp seed compost followed by some fresh lawn seed, then lightly rake this in to ensure the seed makes good contact with the soil. Within a few weeks, you should see signs of germination.

Covering the freshly sown seed with garden fleece will speed up germination as well as protect seed/seedlings from birds. Avoid walking on these repaired patches until the new grass has had a chance to properly establish itself.

Crops

Careful crop rotation is important in the kitchen garden or allotment. Photograph: Richard Johnston

While it’s too early to sow seed or to plant many things outdoors in the kitchen garden or allotment, this month is a great time to plan ahead as regards crop rotation in order to avoid the build-up of pests and diseases and support soil fertility. The simplest crop rotation method is based on the idea of dividing your kitchen garden or allotment up into four sections, with each plot allocated a different group of compatible plants each year.

One would be used to grow potatoes, another legumes (peas and beans), another brassicas (cabbage, broccoli etc) and another root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and beetroot as well as certain leafy vegetables such as chard and spinach. An easy way to remember this is by using the acronym, People Like Bunches of Roses (PLBR)

Seeds
Seedlings sown under cover in the last few weeks will need to be pricked out into cell trays or small individual pots once they’ve properly developed their first set of ‘true’ leaves to maintain steady, healthy growth. Do this using fresh seed compost kept at room temperature for a couple days to avoid shocking their tiny little root systems. Make sure to water each seedling very gently immediately after transplanting.

Dates For Your Diary

Tuesday, March 27th (8pm), Foxrock Parish Pastoral Centre, 18 Kill Lane, Dublin 18, The Private Life of Plants, a lecture by clematis expert and author Dr Mary Toomey on behalf of Foxrock and District Garden Club, see foxrockgardenclub.com. From March 29th-April 25th, National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin 9, Three Threads of the Orchid Tapestry created by Frederick William Moore, an exhibition of botanical artworks by Margaret Pertl and Deborah Lambkin inspired by the famous former curator of the gardens and his particular interest in orchids, see botanicgardens.ie. April 8th, Dalkey Garden School, Saval, Mornington Road, Dalkey, Designing and Planting the Cut-Flower Garden, an in-depth one-day workshop with Fionnuala Fallon which costs €90 including lunch, see dalkeygardenschool.com

Need help with what to do in your garden?

Q What causes a lack of flowers on camellias?

A Most camellias flower at an early age, but some will not flower until they are five years old or more. To make sure you have one that’s of flowering age, buy it in flower.

Caption: Mulching helps keep the roots moist to avoid the buds dropping off

Other factors can affect camellia flowers:

Lack of water

If the plant dries out when flower buds are being formed in late summer, growth will be interrupted. This results in no flowers being formed or buds dropping off just before they are due to open.

Frost

After buds have formed, frost can cause them to shrivel up and turn brown. Sunlight should not be allowed to fall on frosted buds before the ice has melted, so avoid east-facing sites.

Excessive feeding

This can encourage soft, lush growth that doesn’t ripen enough to form flowers, particularly if nitrogen fertilisers are used.

Poor planting

Badly planted specimens or those growing in poor conditions are less likely to flower.

Q What are ideal growing conditions for camellias?

A In their native habitat of eastern Asia, camellias grow in dappled shade on humus-rich, well-drained, acid soils. Rainfall and humidity are high in these regions. In the UK, deep, acid soils with a pH of 5.5-6.5 in areas with high rainfall are likely to be the most successful spots. Use a cheap chemical pH kit to test the acidity of your soil. Only Camellia x williamsii varieties are likely to flower well outdoors in the north. Others such as C. japonica and C. sasanqua need warmer weather to produce a good display. C. japonica varieties prefer more sun than other kinds.

Q Do I need to water camellias?

A Camellias form flower buds the previous summer. So if they run short of water from July onwards, there is a risk of them aborting next year’s flowers. Camellias growing in semi-shade on deep, humus-rich soil which is regularly mulched in spring and autumn are unlikely to need watering, except in an unusually long, hot summer. However, camellias growing in less than ideal conditions and those in raised beds or pots may need watering up to twice a day in hot, dry spells. Mulch with a 5cm layer of bark, coir or leaf mould to reduce evaporation.

Q What should I use to water my camellias?

A Rainwater is the best. When this is exhausted, use tap water. In hard water areas do not use ‘softened’ water as this contains sodium which may build up to harmful levels in the soil.

Q Do I need to feed camellias?

A Camellias growing on deep, humus-rich soils are unlikely to need regular feeding. However, camellias growing in sandy soils low in organic matter or in pots will almost certainly need to be fed. Use a granular slow-release fertiliser in April. Alternatively, use general-purpose liquid feed from March to June, swapping to a high-potash feed in July and August. Plants that don’t flower well can be dressed in April with sulphate of potash at 70g a sq m.

Camellias in Bloom

Colin Campbell

COLIN CAMPBELL: I’m often asked to name my favourite flower and I’ve got to tell you, the Camellia is right up near the top and I know I’m not the only one because it is one of the world’s favourite flowers.

They’ve been cultivated here for 200 years, since the early days of European settlement and if you’re looking for a hardy, winter flowering plant, Camellias are hard to beat. They’ll give you beautiful blooms right through autumn, winter and into spring. And they make a great foliage plant too, even without the flowers – those dark green glossy leaves are most attractive.

There are 4 main types of Camellias. There’s Sasanqua, and the Japonica and then there’s the Reticulata which has much bigger flowers and finally Sinensis which comes from China and that’s the one that gives us our cup of tea, but you don’t find many of them in home gardens.

To many people, the Japonica is the most recognisable Camellia. It has a strong growth habit, large glossy dark green leaves and the flowers come from late autumn, right through to spring and they come in a range of sizes and colours and forms. As its name suggests, it comes from Japan and it was the earliest of the cultivated Camellias in Australia. Camellia growers love to hybridise and this species has produced more than 20,000 cultivars.

You can grow Camellias pretty much anywhere in Australia. They don’t mind a light frost and most of them do need shade, particularly during the midday summer heat and they need protection from hot, drying winds.

This is one of the most popular Camellia varieties. It’s the Sasanqua Camellia and you can recognise it by its smaller leaves and its rather straggly, leggy growth habit. It does have a beautifully delicate flower, but it drops its petals almost on a daily basis and that upsets some gardeners, but the carpet of petals on the ground that follows looks really stunning I reckon and because it has a huge number of buds, it has a long flowering season from late autumn right through the winter. It really is a beautiful plant. Some of these varieties actually stand full sun, although most of them like to grow in the shade and the full sun varieties make great hedging plants. An added bonus is that they stand regular pruning.

Camellias like a well drained, slightly acid soil with a pH range of between 6 and 6.5 and adding regular compost helps to maintain that acidity level.

There’d be thousands of Camellias in gardens that have never had a feed in their lives and yet they’re performing beautifully, but if you want to get the very best out of your Camellia, give them a feed with an Azalea and Camellia fertiliser, about December and then just before flowering, a few handfuls of sulphate of potash.

One common problem that’s faced by Camellia the world over is one called ‘Bud Balling’ and this is when the buds – they might come to this stage or that stage or even stay at this stage and they don’t go any further. Now there are a few things you can do. One is to put 2 teaspoons of Epsom salts into 10 litres of water and water all around the plant with that. Another is to give it a good feed of Azalea and Camellia fertiliser. The last is maybe to shift it to a completely different place so it gets a different aspect of sun and light. If none of those work, just enjoy the green foliage.

So you can see Camellias are not only a beautiful garden plant, they’re an easy care one as well.

Q: I bought Camellia sasanqua ‘Apple Blossom’ two years ago with blossoms on it. Last year it bloomed just before the big windstorm, so the blossoms were short-lived. This year, I haven’t seen any sign of blossoms. Any ideas?

A: Sasanqua camellias bloom in winter and earliest spring, and ‘Apple Blossom’ is a particularly lovely type with blush pink single flowers and glossy green leaves. It thrives in well-drained soil, rich in organic matter and appreciates an application of acid fertilizer in early spring.

Your ‘Apple Blossom’ should be flowering by now, so I’d have to guess it needed more water over the summer to set buds, or didn’t get enough sun. Sasanqua camellias need regular watering for the first few years, and, unlike their more familiar cousin Camellia japonica, needs quite a bit of sun to flower well. Or could you have pruned it late enough so that you mistakenly cut off the buds? Be assured camellias are long-lived plants and when grown in the right conditions bloom prolifically over time.

Q: My new favorite year-round plant is Euphorbia wulfenii. I understand that this plant comes in large, medium and small. Besides the standard wulfenii that gets about 4 feet by 4 feet, there is ‘Humpty Dumpty’ which is 3 feet by 3 feet, and then ‘Shorty’, being 1 ½ feet by 1 ½ feet. Are there any other differences in these plants besides their height and compactness?

A: Euphorbia is a huge genus with more than 2,000 species, and since E. characias subsp. wulfenii has become so popular, it has many new cultivars, including the new, more compact types you describe. All are drought tolerant, showy, easy-care perennials with gray-green leaves topped with domes of chartreuse bracts in springtime. ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and ‘Shorty’ are not just shorter than the rangy species, but also smaller scale in leaves and bloom, making them ideal for pots and urban gardens. Their flowers and foliage are just as eye-catching.

Q: My sister, an avid and master gardener, has requested a riddle, one of those round soil strainers. I’m finding one hard to come by; I think she was, too, which is why she requested it of me. Might you know of a resource for such a thing in the Seattle area?

A: I hadn’t heard these useful implements called “riddles” but I remember my mother had a set of homemade ones with wire netting in various textures to strain her compost. I find new galvanized steel riddles for sale on English Web sites such as amazon.co.uk.

You might also check a store, such as Hardwick’s in the University District, that carries old tools and implements. If all else fails, you could make a set of riddles for your sister. You’d need a sturdy frame several inches deep of a comfortable size to handle, with a fairly fine wire mesh stretched tight and fastened to one side.

Valerie Easton also writes about Plant Life in Sunday’s Pacific Northwest Magazine. Write to her at P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111 or e-mail [email protected] with your questions. Sorry, no personal replies.

My Camellias Won’t Bloom – Tips For Making Camellias Flower

Camellias are gorgeous shrubs with glossy evergreen foliage and big, beautiful flowers. Although camellias are generally reliable bloomers, they can be stubborn at times. It’s frustrating, but sometimes, even healthy camellias won’t bloom. If you’re wondering how to make non-flowering camellia plants bloom, read on for more information.

Why are Camellias not Blooming?

A certain amount of bud drop is normal, but when camellias absolutely refuse to bloom, it’s often due to some type of stress. Here are some possible reasons when camellias won’t bloom:

Camellia buds are very sensitive to cold, and chilly wind or a late frost can damage the buds and cause them to drop. Cold weather can be a particular problem for early blooming camellias.

Uneven watering can cause buds to drop prematurely. Water evenly to keep the soil moist but never soggy. Camellias don’t like wet feet, so be sure the soil drains well.

Too much shade may be the cause when camellias won’t bloom. Ideally, camellias should be planted where they receive morning sunlight and afternoon shade, or filtered sunlight throughout the day.

Too much fertilizer is another potential reason for camellias not blooming. Feed camellias a product formulated for camellias or other acid-loving plants. Withhold fertilizer the first year, and don’t fertilize camellias in fall.

Camellia bud mites, tiny pests that feed on the buds, may be another cause for camellias not blooming. Insecticidal soap spray or horticultural oil will kill mites on contact. Avoid pesticides, which will kill beneficial insects that prey on mites and other unwanted pests.

Making Camellias Flower with Gibberellic Acid

Gibberellic acid, commonly known as GA3, is a hormone naturally found in plants. Safe to use and readily available in garden centers, Gibberellic is often used to induce flowering on camellias and other plants.

If you want to try using Gibberellic acid when camellias won’t bloom, just place a drop or two at the base of camellia buds in autumn. Although the process takes some time if you have a lot of buds, you’ll probably have lush blooms in a few weeks.

Camellia bud

Camellia bud

(NOLA.com|The Times-Picyaune archive)

QUESTION: The buds on my camellia won’t open. What’s up? — Claire Price

ANSWER: This is a common problem in camellias. Although most plants bloom just fine, I get a number of emails every year about this issue. It’s so common, there is even a term for camellias that fail to properly open their flower buds: bullnosing. The causes are complex, so the reasons for bullnosing will vary from plant to plant. In most situations, though, the underlying cause is some type of stress.

It’s common for newly planted camellias to open flower buds poorly the first few years after planting. This is due to the stress of establishment. Bullnosing for this reason usually clears up on its own within about three years after planting.

Stress from an infestation of tea scale will cause buds to bullnose. Generally it takes a fairly heavy population. But if tea scale is the cause, once it is controlled, and the plant returns to health and normal vigor, the bullnosing typically stops.

Abundant sun stresses camellias. Although camellias will grow with considerable amounts of sun, plants in sunnier locations tend to be more stressed than those in shadier locations. If the camellia with bullnosing flowers is growing in a sunny location, it may be a factor. Camellias prefer about a half a day of morning sun and afternoon shade or plenty of dappled light through the day. This cannot easily be corrected if the camellia bush is too large to move. Drought also can be a stress factor causing bullnosing, but Louisiana winters are generally moist.

Winter freezes in the low 20s can cause bullnosing if the timing is right. When a freeze hits, open flowers are damaged, but unopened buds are not hurt. However, buds that are partly open may be damaged and then fail to open properly. This can be diagnosed by looking at recent weather. In this case, only the cold-damaged partly open buds are affected. These camellias would still normally open most of their buds.

There also is the camellia bud mite, a pest that causes buds not to open properly. To check for the mites, cut buds open and look for the tiny, worm-like larvae.

Some sources indicate that late-blooming cultivars are more likely to bullnose due to heat. As late-blooming cultivars bloom in spring, early warm spells in the 80s are common.

Good care that ensures good vigor is important. Fertilize camellias with a general purpose or acid-loving plant fertilizer in March or early April following label directions. A mulch helps to keep roots cooler and conserves moisture. Good drainage also is important for a healthy bush.

Even perfectly healthy, well-established camellias in ideal growing conditions typically do not bloom all of the buds they form. As long as a majority of the buds bloom, this may be normal for your plants. By late March, the major bloom season is mostly over, and any remaining buds may not open properly due to heat.

Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter.

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