Camellia Sasanqua - Fall Blooming Camellias
The camellia is in the tea family and is a staple in gardens of the South. There are basically two types of camellias: the sasanquas, which bloom in the Fall, and the japonicas, which bloom in late Winter through early Spring. Both have gloosy evergreen foliage and can be grown as a shrub or limbed up to form a small to mid-size tree. Both are useful and work great for espalier (training a plant to grow flat against a wall, fence or other structure). Aside from bloom time and uses, there are these other differences between the two:
- Sasanquas produce smaller but more flowers than japonicas.
- Sasanquas have slightly smaller leaves than japonicas.
- Sasanquas tend to be a little more sprawly and natural in their growth habit than japonicas.
- Sasanquas tend to take severely cold winters better than japonicas and are generally hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 7 through 10.
Varieties of Camellia Sasanqua
There are many varieties within the sasanqua group. Depending on the variety, blooms can be single, semi-double or fully double, mature height can range from 5 feet or so to over 15 feet, and growth habit can be mounding or upright. Among the sasanquas, blooms come in shades of white, pink, lavender, purple and red.
Where to Plant Camellia Sasanquas
Sasanquas can take more sun than the camellia japonica, however all camellias might prefer some shade in the afternoon. Because the sasanquas bloom during fall and early Winter this makes their flowers susceptible to damage from cold winds that might arrive with an early cold front. For this reason, many designers will plant camellias on the south or east side of a home or structure where the blooms will be protected from cold. In the landscape, camellias are useful as specimen shrubs or small trees, grouped together in beds to form a natural, evergreen hedge or as espalier (trained to grow flat against a wall or other structure). When you consider the attractive leaves of these evergreens coupled with blooms as pretty as a rose, you wonder why people would plant anything else.
Planting Camellia Sasanqua
Camellias prefer well-drained, acid soils. When planting a camellia, prepare the planting hole or bed by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and mix in with the native soil removed from the hole or till deeply.
Dig the planting hole 2 to 3 times as wide as the rootball but no deeper. Place the camellia in the hole and backfill with soil mixture, tamp and water to settle, and apply mulch.
For more detailed planting instructions see: How To Plant a Shrub
Caring for Your Camellia
Watering - Camellias like moisture but do not like consistently damp or wet soil. Moisture is critical the first Summer; water as needed to keep soil from totally drying out. Camellias planted in Fall will not require as much attention to watering than ones planted in Spring. Once a camellia is established, watering is seldom necessary unless there is extended drought.
Fertilization - Camellia sasanqua can be fed up to 3 times a year. Fertilize your camellia just as new foliage growth begins to emerge in Spring, and again in early Summer, and early Fall. Use a slow-release, acidifying fertilizer. Avoid extreme amounts of nitrogen (the first number in fertilizer) and phosphorous (such as "bloom boosters"). Always refer to product label for application rates and instruction.
Pruning - Camellias do not require pruning. However, you may decide to prune your camellia to maintain fullness, or to rejuvinate an old plant that has become spindly. For younger plants it is best to do some shaping just after the blooms have faded (late Spring or early Fall depending on the variety). It is okay during any time of year to remove a stray or broken branch. Cease any pruning after July and you are almost guaranteed not to effect the next season's bloomage. If your older camellia has become overgrown, rejuvination pruning may be necessary. They can be cut back as far as necessary, even to a stump, and will regenerate into a beautiful plant. Rejuvination pruning should be done in late Winter, just before new growth begins to emerge. Camellias, whether young or old, may also be trained to grow as a small tree. To tree-form your camellia, do so in late Winter by simply pruning away lower branches and/or stems to a point that is satisfying in appearance. This may also help to rejuvinate older camelias that have become leggy.
Pests and Diseases - Regarding camellias, there are more problems with disease than with insects. Most problems with camellias are the result of poor drainage, or poor location. Drainage problems can be solved by amending the soil before planting or planting in raised beds. If camellias in poor locations cannot be moved, try to shelter them from winds and mid-afternoon sun. Camellia petal blight starts with a brown spot on a petal and spreads, covering the entire flower. To prevent this, remove the fallen flowers from beneath the plant. If the problem is serious, remove all mulch from around the plant and replace it with fresh mulch. If only the edges of the petals are brown, sun- or windburn is usually the cause and the condition will quickly correct itself once the conditions are corrected. Other problems may include "bud drop", which may be normal for the plant, but it can also result from over or under-watering, or moisture retention in the soil. "Dieback" can cause new growth to die, followed by cankers forming on the branches. This is most common in wet weather, especially in the South. Cut out the diseased branches and dispose of them. Then spray with a fungicide during the period of spring leaf drop. Because it can be difficult to diagnose the exact cause of a problem, the best approach is good gardening practices, including sufficient water, good drainage, mulching, feeding, and pest control.
Companions for Camellias
Since camellias prefer partial shade or being planted on the south or east side of a home or in sheltered areas, other plants that prefer these same conditions make suitable companions. At the top of the list of companions might be azaleas and rhododendrons. Groundcover plants such as ivy and liriope are suitable for underplanting. Perennial plants, such as hosta lily and evergreen ferns are nice accents in a bed with camellias. Pansies, which bloom Fall through mid-Spring, make for a pretty Fall display when planted near camellia sasanqua.
By choosing both Camellia sasanquas and Camellia japonicas we can have the best of all worlds, fall and winter bloom, winter and spring bloom and great summer time foliage.