It’s a good thing camellias tend to grow slowly, for if they grew fast they’d be ludicrously common and be taken for granted.
Long-lived camellias give us elegance and style in a natural and informal way. These evergreen shrubs flow with a deep and graceful green, which is even better appreciated in mid-winter, when our tastes yearn for cheery green to go with winter’s landscape of mellow gray and brown.
And in winter, just when gardeners are begging for a flush of color, camellias burst into bloom with flowers that rival a rose in every way except fragrance. These medium-to-large flowers come in such an array of forms, shapes and colors, it staggers the imagination.
It’s even worth some space in the landscape based on just its form and its texture, shape and color of the dark green foliage. Leathery and thick, the leaves are toothed at the edges and seldom show damage from pests and diseases. Instead, the medium-sized leaves please us with a shiny, slick and clean appearance.
Preferring shade and some wind protection, camellias fit wonderfully next to prominent windows, alongside the east and north sides of the house and under tall trees with high canopies and filtered sun. Grow them in spots that get noticed a lot during winter, such as just outside the kitchen window or near the garage door.
For a leaf texture and shape motif that takes center stage every winter, grow camellias above evergreen azaleas and next to Howard McMinn manzanita and bay shrubs. To blend camellias with berry-producing shrubs for more winter pizazz, group them with nandina, holly, cotoneaster lacteus and toyon.
For an exquisite mix of branch form with late-winter bright color, combine camellias with redbuds and Japanese maples. Three complementary ground covers for beneath camellias are bearberry manzanita, star jasmine and euonymus fortunei.
Camellias make splendid large-container plants, especially in half barrels and wooden tubs. Next to dwarf orange trees, also in large containers, a gardener gets superb foliage from both plants and a bonus of camellia’s colorful flowers in unison with the orange fruit in mid winter.
Although century-old camellia specimens can reach more than 25 feet in width and height, consider these slow-to-moderate growers as gradually reaching half those proportions (there are varieties that reach only six feet).
Therefore, they go nicely under large and established deciduous trees with deep roots such as hackberry, red oak and ginkgo.
Camellia’s best friend is good drainage, and its worst enemy is constantly wet roots. Keep camellias under a constant organic mulch, fertilize lightly with an acid fertilizer such as azalea/gardenia fertilizer and let the soil dry out almost completely before committing to a watering means over fertilizing. Yellow leaves with green veins is probably chlorosis, which can be treated with iron chelate applications.
Thin every other year or when growth is so dense that flowers don’t have room to open.
Ideally, a well-shaped camellia should allow a small bird to fly slowly through its branches.
Marc Soares lives in Redding. He is a landscape consultant for already existing gardens. He’s also the leader of Indigo Brew, a jazz band. Upcoming dates include Feb. 22 and 23 at the Post Office Saloon, and March 2 at Redding’s Old City Hall. He is the director of the West Valley High School Band, and swim coach for the Anderson Aquagators and West Valley High School.
Soares is author of “100 Hikes In Yosemite National Park,” and “Snowshoe Routes of Northern California – The Mountaineers.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.