When to transplant camellias?

frilly camellia

Camellia flower

QUESTION: I have a camellia bush that blooms profusely. This year, after blooming it produced two odd structures about an inch across that are sort of pear shaped. They are located where a flower would normally bloom. Having never seen this before we are wondering what they are? — Chris Sanderson.

ANSWER: We sometimes forget that plants bloom for reproductive purposes, not to please us with their colorful flowers. If they are successful in their efforts, fruit form and seeds are produced to grow the next generation.

Camellias are so hybridized that flowers are not often successfully pollinated, and seeds rarely form. Your camellia, however, has produced two seed pods or fruit. No need to do anything with or about them. It’s a natural occurrence.

You may remove them and discard them to prevent the plant from wasting effort on them.

Having learned that they are seed pods, however, the next question I usually get is “Can I plant the seeds and grow new camellias?” Actually, you can, but it takes years for seedlings to bloom and they are generally inferior to the parent. Information on growing camellias from seeds is available at the website of the American Camellia Society.

Introduction to camellia cultivation.

By Jennifer Trehane

From their beginnings as wild plants growing in the Chinese, Japanese and South Korean countryside, camellias have come a long way, quite literally in many cases. They can be found in gardens almost all over the world, as a glance at the regions in which ICS members live tells us.

The first camellias to be cultivated, possibly around 5000 years ago, were tea plants, camellia species local to the area whose young shoots and leaves have been traditionally plucked to make the world famous beverage, particularly Camellia sinensis var sinensis which is widely distributed in China.

Selections from other wild species with more beautiful flowers particularly Camellia japonica but also Camellia reticulata in Yunnan, China, were later made to grace the gardens of temples and those of the nobility. This was done hundreds, probably more than 1000 years ago. As more were selected they were crossed with each other and the first cultivars emerged and gradually filtered out of China and Japan to ‘the west’. The first named cultivars arrived in England in the 1730’s on the tea clipper, the Carnatic. (the story appears elsewhere on the website).

At first, in England, it was believed that camellias were ‘exotics’, to be housed in heated glasshouses, and proudly displayed by their wealthy owners.

They became highly prized and sought after.

Interest spread throughout Europe, especially when it was realised that these plants were actually successful outdoors.

By the middle of the 19th century camellia cultivation was widespread. Hybridists and nurseries in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain and the UK were breeding, propagating and selling more and more camellia plants in more and more varieties. This was also the century when camellias were spreading with increased enthusiasm in North America, New Zealand and Australia and hybridists produced ever more exotic varieties which soon triggered competition amongst gardeners. Camellia Shows became regular events and camellias, especially in the USA started to be collected and grown specifically to produce blooms for the shows. Local societies cropped up around this trend and enthusiasts learned the techniques needed for this type of cultivation, which is very different from that required to grow camellias as garden plants for overall enjoyment.

Gardening with camellias- How ? Why ? Where ? and When ?

It’s a good idea to look to ‘origins’ to find out what to provide when considering camellias for a garden, wherever this may be in the world. Plus a bit of detective work locally to find out more, particularly when it comes to choosing varieties.


In the wild most camellias grow in communities either in semi-shade provided by a canopy of trees, particularly pines in China, or they grow upwards to become small trees themselves, effectively forming camellia woodland as happens with Camellia japonica, ‘tsubaki’, in many parts of the Japanese archipelago, and Camellia sasanqua, ‘sasanka’, in southern Japan. Camellia reticulata may be found in full sun in China but is more often seen in semi-shade.

Most camellias need good light to thrive and to form flower buds, but prefer some shade to give protection to both flowers and leaves, especially in hot climates where mid-day sun may scorch leaves and bleach the colour from flowers or even cause them and their buds to shrivel up and fail. Where trees are not available to provide natural shade, shade structures are built.

Protection from strong winds, hot or cold, is also highly desirable.


For those of us brought up to grow camellias in light textured composts based on peat, cotton seed waste or other coarse organic material, or planted in garden situations with plenty of organic matter, it is surprising to see wild camellias in China growing in dense, ‘heavy’ soils with a high percentage of small clay particles. These are admittedly mostly found on well drained slopes and in a climate with low winter rainfall so roots are less vulnerable to rotting. Similar soils are used in the clay pots used as containers both in the nurseries and around houses, but root systems are not vigorous and plants slow to establish and grow into healthy plants.

In most gardens around the world camellias thrive in slightly acidic soil with a texture providing good drainage, with air round the roots. As camellias grow they form deep roots for anchorage, a spreading fibrous root system to absorb water and nutrients and—surface roots, which become more obvious as plants reach maturity..


In their natural environments camellias receive very little water in winter when they are dormant. Most of the rain falls during the monsoon season, which starts just when temperatures rise and they come into growth in the Spring. Developing leaves and shoots need plenty of water and nutrients transported up from the soil in that water. Most flower buds form on the current year’s growth from mid-summer. From then onwards they need a regular supply of water for the development of the flowers within the buds and for the flower stalks that attach the flowers to the stems. A break in water supply during these months may result in fallen flower buds and a lack of blooms later.

Natural rainwater is mildly acidic, which suits camellias just fine. If it can be stored for use later that is ideal. If this is not possible or supplies run out, what then ? What if the household water supply is alkaline, say pH8 or higher ?

In temperate climates with significant rain falling in summer this is not a problem, especially for camellias planted out in the garden. Tap water is better than no water for short term situations. Its a different matter where long, dry summers are the rule.

Mulching, either with an organic material such as woodchips or with a plastic membrane to reduce evaporation is often used. Regular irrigation is usually needed. Where there are only a few plants this is done by hand, giving a good soak from a water can or hose, making sure the water reaches right down to the roots. With a collection of plants it’s a good idea to instal an irrigation system. Many enthusiasts in hot dry climates such as in California and parts of Australia, instal irrigation systems with timers set to provide water in the evening or overnight when there is low evaporation, and often the added bonus of discounted payments. Acidifying kits are available if required.


In the wild camellias grow from seeds and need very small amounts of nutrient to start with, supplied by rotting leaves and other plant material around them, gradually increasing as they grow. It’s all balanced out naturally and they grow relatively slowly.

When cultivated it’s a different matter. Plants are usually bought from nurseries in pots, usually already growing vigorously. In order to keep the momentum, young camellias planted in the garden appreciate some fertiliser to help get them established. Applied during the growing season, either as a regular liquid feed, a less regular granular feed, or as ‘slow release’ pellets supplied once in Spring and possible again in mid-summer, these fertilisers need to be added with care. Overfeeding can kill.

Why feed in the Spring ?

Camellias, like many woody plants, stop growing in the autumn and go into a period of relative inactivity, (dormancy). Leaves stop manufacturing the sugars needed for normal activity and ‘the sap’ (liquid sugars), stops moving through the plants; they are gradually stored as immobile starch granules, just under the bark. So—feeding during the dormant season is usually a waste of money, but experienced camellia enthusiasts in the Showing fraternity in warmer climates where dormancy may not be complete, do sometimes fertilise their plants in late winter, in order to enhance the colour of their blooms.

Generally a camellia, especially those that are of a variety classified as ‘formal double’ or ‘peony form’ and ‘large’ or ‘very large’ will also produce bigger blooms, with more petals in warm climates and may be disappointing in cooler areas.

The burden of carrying a crop of flowers is quite a heavy one and the energy for doing this usually comes from activation, helped by enzymes, of the starch store and its gradual conversion into sugars. By the end of the spring flowering season many camellias are showing signs of exhaustion and look less than healthy. Their stored nutrient reserves may be used up, but growth buds are activated and the usual surge of spring growth needs more energy. Added nutrients are appreciated.

There are many types of fertiliser available in different parts of the world so local advice and knowledge are useful.

Wherever they are, camellias need a balanced diet of the main elements, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium plus iron, magnesium, sulphur, and calcium and a variety of more minor elements. All interact within the plants to help with their metabolism and are able to be taken in and put to good use when the soil is acidic, pH7 or below.

As the years go by, provided the soil conditions are suitable, the roots will spread and they will usually find sufficient nutrients once well established and with sufficient water to conduct them into the plants.

Choice of varieties.

There are varieties available for almost any garden situation, in a range of flower sizes, shapes and colours. Some are vigorous with sturdy stems and quite quickly grow to become small trees. At the other extreme there are slow growing camellias with dense growth habits that are either upright or spreading. Many come somewhere between the two. Local nurseries and garden stores will have a selection and should be able to provide advice to help choose for local conditions, as will Camellia Society members at Camellia Shows.

The ICS Register featured on this website provides good descriptions of over 40,000 registered cultivars.

Planting camellias.

Good ground preparation gives camellia plants a good foundation so its a good idea to spend time in advance of planting, removing all perennial weeds, incorporating well rotted organic matter in an area about 1 meter square and a spades depth for each plant

Make sure that after planting and firming the soil the camellia is not planted too deeply.

They need air around the neck of the plants, where the stem joins the root system. Many young, newly planted camellias are killed by lack of air here, which causes rotting and the death of vessels carrying water and nutrients up from the soil and sugars down from their manufacture in the leaves.

Tall plants may need the support of a stake and ties, to prevent the wind rocking them, disturbing the roots while they are trying to get established.

Camellia Transplanting: Learn How To Transplant A Camellia Bush

The beautiful blooms and dark green evergreen foliage of camellia plants win a gardener’s heart. They add color and texture to your backyard all year long. If your camellias outgrow their planting sites, you’ll want to start thinking about transplanting camellias. Read on for information about camellia transplanting, including tips on how to transplant a camellia and when to move a camellia bush.

When to Move a Camellia Bush

Camellias (Camellia spp.) are woody shrubs that grow best in warmer regions. They thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 10. You can buy camellias from your garden store during winter. If you are wondering when to transplant or when to move a camellia bush, winter is the perfect time. The plant may not look dormant, but it is.

How to Transplant a Camellia

Camellia transplanting can be easy or it can be more difficult depending on the age and size of the plant. However, camellias generally don’t have very deep roots, which makes the job easier.

How to transplant a camellia? The first step, if the plant is large, is to do root pruning at least three months before the move. To start transplanting camellias, draw a circle in the soil around each camellia bush that is a little larger than the root ball. Press a sharp spade into the soil around the circle, slicing through roots.

Alternatively, dig a trench in the soil around the plant. When you are done, refill the area with soil until you are ready to transplant.

The next step in camellia transplanting is to prepare a new site for each plant. Camellias grow best in a site with part shade. They need well-draining, rich soil. When you are transplanting camellias, remember that the shrubs prefer acidic soil too.

When you are ready to start, reopen the slices you made around the camellia when you did root pruning and dig them even further down. When you can slip a shovel under the root ball, do so. Then you’ll want to remove the root ball, place it on a tarp, and gently move it to the new site.

If the plant was too small and young to require root pruning before camellia transplanting, just dig around it with a shovel. Remove its root ball and carry it to the new site. Dig a hole in the new site twice as big as the plant’s root ball. Gently lower the root ball of the plant into the hole, keeping the soil level the same as it was in the original planting.

How To Transplant A Camellia

Camellia, a spectacular specimen flowering plant or shrub, requires special care when transplanting. In the home garden, transplanting may involve a balled and burlapped camellia, container-grown camellia, or digging up and moving a camellia from one spot to another. Each method involves specific steps.

Transplanting Balled and Burlapped Camellia

Usually, these are the big specimen camellias that are grown and sold in the nurseries.

Transplant in Dormant Season

Balled and burlapped camellias will fare the best if you transplant them during the fall through spring timeframe. Soil moisture is generally adequate during the winter and roots will have the time to grow and become established by spring.

Prepare Soil and Dig Hole

Cultivate soil 8 to 10 inches deep. This will help encourage root development. Next, dig a hole twice the width, but no deeper than the root ball of the camellia.

Remove Cords and Wire

Carefully remove all cords and wire surrounding the root ball. Then pull back the burlap 8 to 10 inches from the top of the root ball.

Plant Camellia

Place the camellia root ball in the freshly-dug hole so that the root ball is level with the surface. Next, backfill with native soil and break apart clods. Use your fingers to tamp down the soil and remove air pockets.

Mulch and Water

After planting, add 3 inches of organic mulch around the camellia (pine straw, pine bark or well-rotted sawdust work), and water well. Keeping soil moist, but not wet, is critical to growing camellias successfully.

Transplanting A Camellia From Container Stock

The easiest way to transplant successfully is to use container stock from the nursery. Follow the same steps as for balled and burlapped camellias with the exception of step 3. Instead, use garden scissors or fingers to loosen roots in places where the plant has become pot-bound. Make sure to water plants regularly and thoroughly.

Moving Around the Garden

Many camellia experts discourage trying to transplant a camellia from one spot in the garden to another. For some reason, camellias don’t seem to take this very well –and definitely not during the warmer months. If it must be done, try to minimize the shock to the plant as much as possible.

Dig Roots

Gauge how big and wide to dig the hole around the existing camellia plant to be transplanted. Root digging can be tricky since this is where the most damage can occur. Remember, camellias are shallow-rooted plants, so be extra careful.

Place on Plastic Sheet

To move the camellia root ball, position it on a piece of heavy plastic or cardboard. Be careful not to dislodge the root ball any more than necessary.

Cultivate soil 8 to 10 inches deep. This will help encourage root development. Next, dig a hole twice the width, but no deeper than the root ball of the camellia. Place the camellia root ball in the freshly-dug hole so that the root ball is level with the surface. Next, backfill with native soil and break apart clods. Use your fingers to tamp down the soil and remove air pockets. After planting, add 3 inches of organic mulch around the camellia. You can use pine straw, pine bark or well-rotted sawdust. Work, and water well. Keeping soil moist, but not wet, is critical to growing camellias successfully.

Planting Camellias

Camellias are generally planted in the late fall through the early spring, although they may be set out any month of the year if properly cared for.

Choose a Site
Choose a planting site with well-drained soil. Do not plant where shade trees with shallow root systems will compete with camellias for nutrients and water. Plants in the sun may suffer scald on the leaves or leaves may appear yellow rather than deep green. Plants of Camellia sasanqua generally do better in the sun than those of C. japonica.
Soil Preparation
Camellias will grow in most well-drained slightly acid soil. A soil pH (degree of acidity or alkalinity) of 6.0 – 6.5 is considered best for camellias. However, they will tolerate a lower pH.
A soil test made before planting will tell you what is needed to bring the soil to the desired pH and fertility level. Practically all soils will benefit from the addition of organic matter when planting. Two to four inches of peat moss, leaf mold, ground aged bark, sawdust or cow manure worked into the soil improves both the drainage and fertility of the soil.
Camellias are generally planted in the late fall through the early spring, although they may be set out any month of the year if properly cared for. Adequate moisture is a necessity until the roots become well established in the soil. The newly developed roots will then provide enough moisture for the plant to start growth when spring arrives.
Allow a minimum of five feet between plants, and preferably more. When planting a hedge, a distance of three feet between plants is recommended.
The following steps should be followed when planting a camellia.

  • Dig a hole at least two feet wider than the root ball.
  • Leave soil in the center of the hole undisturbed to prevent settling.
  • Place the rootball on a the column of soil in the center of the hole.
  • The top of ball should be slightly above soil level.
  • When planting a container-grown plant, wash away the soil from the root ball with a water hose and rough up the root ball, if tight, to allow better penetration into the soil.
  • Fill the hole around the root ball with a mixture of topsoil and organic matter.
  • Build a berm of soil around the plant three feet in diameter to prevent water from running off.
  • Mulch with straw or other organic matter around the plant.
  • Water well after planting and soak once a week during dry weather.

The State Extension Service no longer recommends the addition of organic matter to the backfill soil. Research has shown that this does not improve plant growth. They now recommend digging a wide hole and refilling with the removed soil.

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