Hooray for the start of camellia season

Tuesday, 21 November 2017, 11:14:45 AM. Pick the right camellia for the right place

Camellia season opens for me with the first bloom in November. That is Lady Clare, a great camellia that I can count on for a long season of bloom. Others, such as Professor Charles Sargent, Pink Perfection, Debutante and Lady Vansittart, will follow to keep me happy all the way to spring.

The range of choices among camellias is so great that there is no reason to not make them the dominant evergreens of a shady or semi-shady landscape. There are camellias for the early bloom season of November and December (Camellia sasanqua), followed by varieties of Camellia japonica for mid-season in January and February and late bloomers for February into March. The color choices are outstanding from white to pink to red. Some are solid colors; others have margins or centers of a different color, such as white or cream.

While some people may think such a beautiful plant is a risky business, camellias are among the easiest and most carefree of landscape plants. Planted correctly, they should grow well, if a bit slowly at first while they get adjusted.

It is not difficult to make the most of their beauty. Think first of how you wish to use the plant. Some varieties, such as Yuletide, make excellent screens because of their upright nature and rather dense foliage. Others, such as Lady Clare, make ideal specimen plants, producing small trees with loose, horizontal branching, especially when the lower trunk is cleared of branches.

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Most camellias prosper in filtered sunlight, the kind of light that breaks through light tree canopies. The Camellia sasanquas will take stronger sunlight, which increases their usefulness particularly when you need a set of plants for a hedge in a sunny spot.

Their soil requirements are a bit particular but not difficult to achieve. Camellias arose in the acidic soil of Eastern Asia, particularly China and Japan. They require similar soil here, which means the addition of compost to the native clay soil. For fertilizer, choose a product formulated for acid-loving plants such as Holly-Tone.

Because many of the camellias bloom in mid-winter, open blooms may be subject to browning on very cold nights. Anticipating this drop in the temperature, you can cut open blooms and bring them indoors to enjoy. Buds tend to survive deep freezes without harm to the eventual bloom.

You can plant camellias now through the winter. An advantage is you can see the blooms and pick just the style and color you like. Don’t forget to consider the mature size stated on the label and pick the right one for the space you’ve got.

Ask Nancy

Q. My Knock Out roses are still in bloom. Is this unusual and should I be worried about cold nights hurting them?

A. Knock Outs tend to keep blooming well into autumn, though not so profusely as they did in summer. Just enjoy them while they still have a few blooms. They should not be harmed by the temperatures typical for this time of year.

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