Camellia Care and Culture Notes
What's different about growing camellias in Queensland?
Camellias are happiest in well drained, slightly acidic soil. The enthusiast will aim for a soil pH level of less that 6.0. If your garden has flourishing Azaleas and Gardenias, then Camellias will flourish also, for their soil needs are very similar. Soil should be kept moist but not wet. To maintain moisture, apply a good layer of mulch to 10cm (4 inches). Wood chip and pine bark work well as does cane mulch. Avoid mushroom compost and fresh chook manure. These are inclined to be too alkaline.
Well rotted horse and cow manure mixed in well helps also. Avoid using lime. If you are in doubt, take a soil sample to your Garden Centre for a test – even better, purchase a simple soil testing kit and do it yourself – it’s easy.
To ensure your camellia has a well drained area in which to grow, add a barrow load of gravel to the mix – this not only raises the root ball level from the surrounding ground, it will make the soil drain well, reducing the risk of root rot.
While some Camellia varieties may develop extensive root systems close to the surface, they will naturally send down roots deep into the soil if they can. Encourage this by watering deeply and by your choice of location, where water will not sit in the subsoil and drown the roots. Test this by partially filling the planting hole with water. It should drain away within a reasonable time.
Water newly planted plants well and keep them moist until their roots develop and move into the surrounding soil. A deep watering weekly should suffice. Sometimes, particularly in Spring and early Summer, new growth will wilt in the heat of the day. As the day cools the growth picks up again.
Camellias have proved themselves to be very resilient in periods of extended dry weather. Naturally, a consistent watering regime will produce better plants and a better flower display.
The Camellia you buy at your Garden Centre will have a quantity of fertiliser active in the pot. Fertilise a month or two after planting with a recommended Camellia/Azalea food. There are a number of commercial preparations available and all will work comparably well. DO NOT OVERFEED. We kill more Camellias by drowning from inappropriate watering, and by fertiliser burn resulting from over fertilizing than we do from neglect. Follow directions as per the instructions on the pack. When established, fertilise immediately after flowering, around early spring, and again in December/January. This coincides with the plants’ natural growth spurts.
If you use a 12-14 month slow release (or controlled release) fertiliser like Osmacote Azalea Special (which we use), use in spring as the new growth buds are thinking about forming so they will get the benefit of the nutrient in the plant food before they start to bud. If there are still flowers and flower buds, it’s probably too late in the season for the flowers to fully open anyway, so you are better off sacrificing a few blooms. It’s better to get the new growth at the time the plant is ready to put it on naturally. The one dose will last the season. For your in ground plants, remember to gently mix the fertiliser in with the mulch. This is a good time to top up the mulch also. Always water in well.