How to design with and grow Camellias
Designing with Camellias
Whether it is a swirling curved low hedge to be contrasted with mass planted blocks of low foliage, an evergreen glossy green screen to hide a shaded fence line or neighbour’s house, a low maintenance low allergy shrub with beautiful flowers or a ‘petal confetti’ winter wedding scene Camellias are often on the shortlist of possible plants.
People and Camellias have a long history together spanning many hundreds of years. They are celebrated in culture, admired for their beauty and used as a benchmark for glossy evergreen foliage. What is more, Camellias include the tea plant that makes the tea that is drunk by millions every day.
Perhaps it is worth stopping and, over a cup of tea, taking the time to consider Camellias in the places around us.
The evergreen nature of Camellias lends them to being excellent structural plants able to hold together the spaces, shapes and volumes in a garden. If being the bones of a garden wasn’t enough they are perhaps also one of the most beautiful groups of flowering shrubs for a traditional garden.
How to grow Camellias in Victoria.
Get the soil right and place them in a favourable location and you will be smiling with success.
Camellias are reliable, long-lived and when established in a good spot are really surprisingly hardy in this part of Australia. Surprising because the lush green foliage and predominately surface roots are both things that would normally suggest they wouldn’t suit a hotter dry climate.
- The soil must be loose and organic to grow Camellias. Sharpen up a pencil. It must be easy to push into the ground with the blunt end on the palm of your hand.
- Camellias will love soil that has lots of organic material and an active soil food web. It is preferable to use organic fertilizers not synthetic salt-based ones if you want to encourage beneficial soil organisms.
- Thinking about looking after the microbiology of the soil not just the plants is valuable, as really it is the living things in the soil that will be feeding your plants and controlling pests.
- Camellias are calcifuges (acid lovers). With this in mind the basic soil type should be slightly acidic or more importantly should not be alkaline, so avoid any lime.
- At planting time adding garden compost made from a mixture of both leafy and woody material at about one to two buckets a square meter and digging this in to the top 300mm will get the soil off to a good start.
- All soils for Camellias need to be free draining. What this means is that the ground must not be prone to staying really soggy wet. Camellias won’t grow in a bucket of water and we can’t expect them to live in a bucket of water and soil which is effectively what happens underground in poorly drained soils.
- Don’t plant deeper in the ground than they were growing in the pot. You should be able to see the top of the potting mix once they are planted. Planting deeper causes all sorts of problems so it is best simply not to do it. Once the plants are in the ground the area should be mulched.
- Mulch around Camellias with an organic mulch with a preference for woody or pine bark mulch. Camellias like the organic soils and leaf litter you would expect in deciduous woodlands. This is rich in decomposing leaf litter and woody material. Mulch is best not pushed up against the stems
- Avoid stone and pebble mulches around Camellias. Organic mulches are required and with mature plants allowing leaf litter to decompose naturally around the plant is ideal.
- Keep the ground moist in hot weather. Once plants are several years old they are surprisingly drought hardy if you have the soil and position right.
If you have Camellias growing in the right soil and location they are regarded as easily grown in Victoria.
Interestingly in hotter areas of Victoria the one to watch for is mites. Although two-spotted mites often get a mention it is rust mites that are much more of an issue from our experience. These pests are too small to see with the naked eye but will leave a dusty white material on the leaf surface. This is best seen with the leaf at an angle so you are viewing across the leaf surface. Some mite species seem to prefer the top side and others the underside of the leaf. Slightly rusty colouring of the leaf is also associated with these mites. The key here is to know that if your Camellia leaves are not really glossy and shiny green then have a closer look. Observing any leaf changes early may mean a cure is as simple as an improvement in the growing conditions.