Growing Camellias in Canberra

Camellias have so much to offer the garden, it’s no wonder they are great favourites. Glossy green leaves year round, tough, cold hardy, and a superb display of flowers from autumn to spring in a wide range of colours from white to pink and red - and even creamy yellow, and bi-colours.

Hailing mainly from China, Japan and Korea, there are almost 300 species found in the wild, plus about 3,000 named varieties. For the home gardener however, two main groups of Camellias are normally available:

Sasanqua Camellias

These brighten up the autumn-winter garden with single to semi-double blooms which also fall and form a colourful carpet around the base of the shrub. Many varieties are also fragrant.

• They have smallish, glossy green leaves making them suitable for either sun or semi-shade.
• They can be grown as a great hedge (space them 50-90cms apart), trim to a shape, or just leave to eventually become a large evergreen shrub or small tree of up to 3-4m.
• Their long, flexible new growth also makes them a perfect choice to espalier on a wall or fence.
• Fast growing - expect growth up to 30cms per year with good care.
• The colour range is from white to dark pink, red and two-tones.

- Classic varieties include ‘Hiryu’ (dark pink); ‘Setsugekka’, ‘Asakura’, ‘Early Pearly’ (all white); ‘Paradise Pearl’, ‘Pure Silk’ (white/pink blush); and ‘Jennifer Susan’ (Mid Pink).
- ‘Yuletide’ (red) is a compact later-flowering variety great for tubs and smaller spaces.- Camellia x hiemalis and Camellia x vernalis are very similar to C. sasanqua, for garden purposes.

Japonica Camellias

These more formally shaped Camellias open their spectacular flowers in late winter to spring and they make great centrepiece shrubs that look good year round.

• Highly prized for their large showy blooms so suitable for the vase.
• With big glossy leaves, these Camellias grow steadily into shapely compact medium shrubs of about 2-3 metres.
• Best suited to shaded or dappled sun situations, so the large flowers and leaves don’t get sunburn.
• Colours range from pure white to red and even creamy yellow. Classic varieties include ‘Lovelight’ (white); ‘Black Lace’ (deep red); ‘Debbie’, ‘E.G. Waterhouse’, ‘Desire’ (all pink shades); ‘Buttons and Bows’ (two-tone) and ‘Brushfield’s Yellow’ - to name only a few!
• Camellia reticulata and Camellia williamsii are very similar to C. japonica, for garden purposes.

What do camellias like?

Shade, semi-shade or early morning sun for the C. japonica group. Semi-shade to sun for the C. sasanqua group.

A slightly acid soil - just what you naturally find around Canberra. Avoid lime. A soil with good drainage and added compost or organic matter.

Fertilise spring, summer and autumn when the soil is moist. We recommend Healthy Earth Fertiliser.

Pruning just after flowering is finished helps keep them compact and allows a full season to form next year’s buds.

A reliable and regular supply of moisture, especially when young and when forming buds and opening flowers. They resent alternating between moist and dry.

Planting Your Camellias

Planting in the ground: For the basics of planting into the ground, see our leaflet “Planting Your New Tree”. If you are planting a hedge, see our leaflet about the best method for hedges.

Planting in a pot: Best suited to Japonica Camellias or dwarf varieties in the Sasanqua group, like ‘Yuletide’. For an eye-catching formal look, try a Camellia trained on a standard into a “lollipop” shape - this training keeps the plant and roots small and suited to a large pot. Use a potting mix for Camellias and Azaleas.

Special Tips

Avoid planting white or pale coloured Camellia japonicas in morning sun - they will brown or burn.

Very early flowering Japonica varieties need protection from frost burning their flowers.

Look out for special varieties like the groundcover ‘Marge Miller’; the compact ‘Night Rider’ (dark red & red new growth); the stunning miniature flowers of ‘Tinsie’ and the Camellia that tea is made from, Camellia sinensis.

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