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Charming & Graceful - Camellia, the Southern Belle

Updated: Dec 11, 2023


One of the plants I terribly missed when I moved from Pennsylvania to Houston are the peonies – I was crazy about them, their open face, beauty and intense fragrance. I did try growing them in this hot and humid weather but of course, was not successful.

When I visited Dallas arboretum, I discovered Camellias. They look very similar to peonies, have a lot of varieties, easy to grow in this zone and most of all, they bloom in the dead of winter. The only thing missing is the fragrance. Oh well, 8 out 10 is not bad at all, moreover they are evergreen.

So, my love affair with camellias began.

By that time, I quit my lawyer job and started designing gardens, after becoming a master gardener and completing landscape design course. I had relationships with growers and one very special grower was Heidi Sheesley at Tree Search Farm, north of Houston. It is a wholesale garden center and Heidi is a passionate grower of not only Texas native plants but also unusual plants. I first saw “Seafoam” camellia at her nursery, and it was love at first sight. The perfection of the petal layout blew my mind



The sasanquas I think I bought from local nurseries and they added this splash of color to my front yard, year after year. They sprawl and fill with flowers and instill so much happiness whenever I walk by them


Camellias have been adorning southern gardens for more than two centuries. They are a long-lived plant and are passed on from generation to generation. There are two types of camellias – Japonica and Sasanqua. Sasanquas are easier to grow since they can take more sun than normal.

Here are some growing guidelines and tips for these beautiful plants


Plant type

Perennial, long lived, evergreen, shrub or tree; slow grower

Mature size

10 feet x 7 feet; Sasanquas may be more sprawling, and japonicas may be more upright

Sun exposure

Partial sun works best; they may also thrive in full shade as an understory planting. Definitely protect from afternoon sun

Soil

Organic with high pH; likes acidic soil

Bloom time

Winter and early spring

Hardiness zone

7-9 zones

Watering

Regular, deep watering is critical; let the root balls dry out between waterings

Fertilizing

With acidic fertilizer that is used for azaleas, roses and camellias; fertilize in late summer and once during the blooming season

Pruning

After blooming is done remove dead or weak wood. If you want tree form, remove lower branches. In general, they don’t need much pruning


It is better to plant in Spring so they will establish and start blooming in winter. Sasanquas bloom earlier in late Fall, early winter and Japonicas bloom in late winter and early Spring.

When the garden starts to look blah in winter, these beauties wake up and bless you with color and cheerful blooms.

Here are my sasanqua camellias blooming right now in my front garden, under the oak trees


Go ahead and add some camellias to your garden in that shady spot. Happy gardening


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