Camellias are wonderful evergreen shrubs that produce a fantastic display of flowers during the midwinter months when there is very little else on show.
Great for shady positions, there are thousands of varieties to choose from. You can enjoy their luxurious pink, red and white single or double blooms from autumn through to spring. Camellias need specific growing conditions, but you can be sure to find one to suit your garden.
How to grow camellias
Grow camellias in moist but well-drained, acidic soil, in partial shade. If growing in pots use a peat-free ericacesou compost and water only with rainwater. Mulch annually with composted bark chippings.
More on growing camellias:
Where to plant camellias
Camellias will grow in any aspect except south-facing, as long as they’re in dappled to full shade and relatively sheltered from the wind. A spot with morning shade is best, as direct sun in the morning can dry out the developing flower buds too quickly, drying the outer petals and preventing the flowers from opening.
Camellias need acid or ericaceous soil, with a pH of 5.5-6.5. However, in areas where the pH is borderline you can plant camellias if the soil has been well cultivated, with plenty of leaf mould added.
Camellias can be grown in pots and this is a good option if you don’t have the right soil in your garden. Use a soil-based, peat-free ericaceous compost mix for the best results. Camellias are slow-growing plants so don’t need to be repotted often, but it’s best to do this before the plant gets visibly pot bound.
How to plant camellias
Dig a generous hole and add plenty of leaf mould before planting your chosen camellia.
In this video, Monty Don demonstrates how to plant a camellia in neutral soil:
How to care for camellias
Use rainwater for watering camellias. This is particularly important in hard water areas with high calcium deposits in the tap water which can affect the acidity of the soil. If you have no option, use tap water. But more importantly, don’t overwater.
Camellias don’t need too much attention in terms of pruning and feeding. They don’t need pruning to promote flowering. However, some varieties can grow up to 5m in height if left unpruned. So if your space is limited, prune for height and shape as soon as possible after flowering.
Although camellias were at first considered tender plants, and were traditionally grown in greenhouses, they’re in fact quite hardy. However, frost and snow can damage flower buds and flowers so it’s best to cover plants with fleece according to the weather forecast, or, if your camellia is in a pot, move it into a greenhouse.
If you’re growing camellias in the right conditions, they don’t need feeding unless they’re showing signs of ill-health. Plants will perk up quickly after a feed. Good quality bark mulch in spring will give the plant a boost and act as a soil conditioner.
In this video, Carol Klein explains how to care for camellias, alternatives to using peat, plus how to identify a sick camellia, and how to remedy the problem:
How to propagate camellias
If you’re looking to make more of your favourite camellia plant, they can be propagated by taking semi-ripe cuttings, hardwood cuttings, layering and grafting. Although camellias do sometimes produce seed, they’re hard to germinate, take years to mature and won’t breed true.
Growing camellias: problem solving
Camellia flower blight is caused by a fungus, Coborinia camelliae. Although the effects are similar to frost damage, with blight, the whole flower is affected, with flecks on the petals, and they will drop early. There’s no chemical solution, so to control, remove any affected blooms as quickly as possible and any dead leaves and debris from the base of the plant. Burn to prevent further contamination.
Chlorosis causes the leaves of camellias to turn yellow and drop. It’s due to high alkalinity in the soil. If your camellia is in a pot, repot into fresh ericaceous compost and give the plant a feed with ericaceous plant food. If it’s in the ground, add a layer of leaf mould.
Sooty mould is an unsightly problem affecting the glossy leaves of camellias. It is caused by aphids secreting honeydew and the aphids will harm the plant in the long term. Wash off the aphids to control. Leaf scale insects stick to the bottom of leaves and can be washed off with a mild soapy solution.
Watch our Quick Tips video with Kevin Smith, who explains why camellia leaves can become sticky:
Here, Lucy Hall explains why camellias might not flower:
Camellias to grow
- Camellia ‘Water Lily’ – an upright growing camellia, with formal double, deep pink flowers with a rich fragrance from February through to April
- Camellia ‘Cornish Snow’ RHS AGM – a compact camellia, bearing masses of small, fragrant, single white flowers with bright yellow stamens from February through to April
- Camellia x williamsii ‘Contribution’ – has semi double pink flowers with bright yellow stamens. The x williamsii hybrids are the toughest and easiest camellias to grow
- Camellia sasanqua ‘Crimson King’ RHS AGM – a fast-growing dense upright shrub with large single bright red fragrant blooms, with masses of bright yellow stamens. Sasanqua varieties are among the earliest flowering camellias, with first blooms appearing in October
- Camellia ‘Quintessence’ – a compact, slow-growing variety that makes a good choice for smaller sheltered gardens. The white single flowers are also sweetly scented